UNSUNG HEROES: This Army Medic Overcame Gunfire And A Broken Leg To Save 14 Soldiers

Unsung Heroes
Army medic Sgt. Julia Bringloe received the Distinguished Flying Cross in 2012 for 11 rescue hoists during 60 hours of combat in Afghanistan's high mountains.
Photo via U.S. Army

Three days. Eleven hoists. Fourteen survivors. Three critical resupply missions.


Two bodies recovered.

One brave medic who refused to quit even after fracturing her leg.

On June 25, 2011, Sgt. Julia Bringloe, with C Company, 3-10 General Support Aviation Battalion, was the medic for the four-person crew aboard a Black Hawk helicopter. The crew was one of two Army medevac teams tasked with supporting Operation Hammer Down in Afghanistan’s Watahpor Valley.

Bringloe’s job was to exit the helicopter --- suspended from a cable when necessary --- and recover the casualties, then provide them lifesaving treatment while the helicopter flew to a medical facility.

The team’s first day began with several typical rescues. The most challenging call was for the evacuation of an injured private in the village of Gambir, according to a November 2012 Newsweek article.

When the medevec team reached the village, the fighting was just too intense. Militants were firing at the rescue helicopters. Their sister chopper was hit by small arms fire and raced away for an emergency landing.

Meanwhile, other calls were coming in. The crew headed for a different rescue, hoping the situation in Gambir would be safer by the time they got back.

Their new mission required Bringloe to be lowered from 160 feet, amid a forest of 100-foot pine trees. Bringloe got her man, a severely dehydrated soldier, and hooked the two of them up for extraction.

As they were being hoisted, a gust of wind suddenly swung them like a pendulum. Bringloe saw that she and her patient were on a collision course with a large tree trunk. She swung her body around to protect her patient, and stuck out her leg to fend off the tree.

The impact was tremendous. Later Bringloe would learn that her leg had been fractured.

When Bringloe and the soldier were back inside the helicopter, the pilot observed her injury and asked if she wanted to quit. “I never thought it was an option,” Bringloe told The Daily. With the other helicopter out of commission, “I was the only medic in the valley and it was a huge mission.”

Unfazed, the team dropped off their patient and returned to Gambir. It was too dark now to lower Bringloe, and there were too many trees to land on the ground. The pilots realized their only option was to hover the chopper on the roof of a hut. With fighting still going on around them, Bringloe and another soldier leaned out the window to direct the pilots to alight on the small roof.

Once the Black Hawk was in place, Bringloe hopped out and called for the injured man to be brought aboard. One look at the man convinced her that they had come too late, she told Newsweek. Nevertheless, she got to work on him and saved his life.

The next two days were filled with more gunfire and more dramatic rescues. One call was for the team to retrieve an Afghan translator who had been shot. The helicopter hovered some 70 feet above the casualty site, even though there were half a dozen insurgent fighters on a nearby mountainside. Bringloe was lowered to the ground and greeted with gunfire.

“Medevac, you guys are crazy!” called a nearby soldier.

Watch Sgt. Julia Bringloe recount her experience at Newsweek & The Daily Beast's 2012 Hero Summit. Story continues below. 

The translator’s body was hoisted first. Then it was Bringloe’s turn.  An Army account continues, “Despite the chaos around her, she didn't hesitate in her job, securing herself and instructing her crew to continue with her own extraction.”

“For about 15 seconds, “ her pilot recalled to The Daily, “those six dudes popped up and fired at her.”

“As I was getting pulled up, I took some fire,” Bringloe told Stars and Stripes. “It’s one of those things you don’t think about while it happens. You are pretty focused on your patient and getting the mission accomplished. Everyone is in danger.”

The bullets missed, and Bringloe made it back into the chopper.

The team wasn’t done yet. On their very last flight of the marathon three days, Bringloe was lowered to retrieve a soldier who had been shot in the shoulder. As she found him, thick clouds rolled in. She could no longer see the helicopter at the end of the line. Worse, the pilots couldn’t see anything, including the mountains and cliffs that surrounded them.

“It’s like driving a car 100 miles an hour and all you can look at is the speedometer,” one pilot recalled to The Daily. “We had to make sure we didn’t slide into a mountain sideways.”

With Bringloe and the injured soldier suspended from the line, the pilots urgently lifted the helicopter to a higher altitude. Eventually, Bringloe and her patient entered the hold, and the helicopter found a break in the clouds.

It was a fitting end to three tumultuous days. “There were so many missions that would have, on any other day, qualified as the craziest mission we'd ever seen,” one of the pilots commented to Army Times.

For her actions during June 2011, Julia Bringloe received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Pilots Erik Sabiston and Kenneth Brodhead also received the award. Bringloe was the seventh woman in U.S. history to receive the award, and only the fourth for combat. Their mission was named the Air/Sea Rescue of the Year by the Army Aviation Association of America, and Bringloe was the USO Army Woman of the Year for 2012.

“To have these awards, to be recognized for the missions, is great, but I didn’t fly with my own two arms,” Bringloe reflected to Stars and Stripes. “I had a whole crew and medevac company that have supported me.”

A Marine grunt stationed in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina is being considered for an award after he saved the lives of three people earlier this month from a fiery car crash.

Cpl. Scott McDonell, an infantry assaultman with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, was driving down Market Street in Wilmington in the early morning hours of Jan. 11 when he saw a car on fire after it had crashed into a tree. Inside were three victims aged 17, 20, and 20.

"It was a pretty mangled wreck," McDonell told ABC 15. "The passenger was hanging out of the window."

Read More
Photo illustration by Paul Szoldra

Navy Lt. Jonny Kim went viral last week when NASA announced that he and 10 other candidates (including six other service members) became the newest members of the agency's hallowed astronaut corps. A decorated Navy SEAL and graduate of Harvard Medical School, Kim in particular seems to have a penchant for achieving people's childhood dreams.

However, Kim shared with Task & Purpose that his motivation for living life the way he has stems not so much from starry-eyed ambition, but from the pain and loss he suffered both on the battlefields of Iraq and from childhood instability while growing up in Los Angeles. Kim tells his story in the following Q&A, which was lightly edited for length and clarity:

Read More

Todd Robinson's upcoming Vietnam War drama, The Last Full Measure, is a story of two battles: One takes place during an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam in 1966, while the other unfolds more than three decades later as the survivors fight to see one pararescueman's valor posthumously recognized.

Read More
Protesters and militia fighters gather to condemn air strikes on bases belonging to Hashd al-Shaabi (paramilitary forces), outside the main gate of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq December 31, 2019. (Reuters/Thaier al-Sudani)

With ISIS trying to reorganize itself into an insurgency, most attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Iraq are being carried out by Shiite militias, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.

"In the time that I have been in Iraq, we've taken a couple of casualties from ISIS fighting on the ground, but most of the attacks have come from those Shia militia groups, who are launching rockets at our bases and frankly just trying to kill someone to make a point," Grynkewich said Wednesday at an event hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

Read More
U.S. Army Soldiers, assigned to the East Africa Response Force (EARF), 101st Airborne Division, board a C-130J Super Hercules, assigned to the 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, on January 5, 2020. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Daniel Hernandez)

The Defense Department has remained relatively tight-lipped regarding the brazen Jan. 5 raid on a military base at Manda Bay, Kenya, but a new report from the New York Times provides a riveting account filled with new details about how the hours-long gunfight played out.

Read More