129 RQS Pilot Receives Purple Heart

MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif. -- An Air Guardsman from the 129th Rescue Squadron was awarded a Purple Heart at Moffett Federal Airfield, Aug. 8.

Capt. Benjamin Copley, an HH-60G Pave Hawk co-pilot, received the Badge of Military Merit, also known as the Purple Heart, by Col. Amos Bagdasarian, commander of the 129th Rescue Wing, in a ceremony attended by fellow wingmen from the 129th RQW.

He recently returned home from his first deployment to Afghanistan after being wounded by enemy forces Feb. 4, during the rescue of a civilian interpreter in critical condition after sustaining a gun-shot wound in the shoulder.

"We got a call to go to a location south of base and I didn't think much of it because we were called out to support a British Special Forces team at same location the day before," the Pleasant Hill native said. "Our wingmen went in to pick up the survivor and were instantly under small arms fire from a nearby building, however they successfully completed the rescue."

Capt. Copley was deployed to Camp Bastion, the main British military base in Afghanistan located in the northwest of the Helmand Province, for 55 days.

The captain thought he had seen it all after running at least five missions a day for the seven days he had spend in country.

"Teams were running at an extremely high tempo for weeks at a time, usually working twelve hour shifts that turned into fifteen hour days," Capt. Copley said. "We went into the zone, essentially off memory, landed and completed the pick up, then as we were egressing the area, all I remember was --BAM!"

Flying low at about 120 knots, about 150 miles an hour, after leaving a successful rescue, a round went right through the pilots windshield, shattering the night vision goggle mount on his helmet, said the captain.

"I wasn't wearing a face shield, so I got shrapnel in my face and neck," the traditional guardsman said. "There was a lot of blood, so we flew directly to the Bastian hospital and I instantly hopped in an ambulance."

While being taken care of at the hospital, Capt. Copley was informed that the maintenance squadron had already replaced the windshield and the aircraft was mission ready again. However, the captain took a little longer to recover.

"I was given local anesthetic to remove larger pieces of shrapnel in my cheek and lip," said the captain. "After being on the ground for two days, I was cleared to fly again."

For the next week and a half Capt. Copley was called back to the same location.

"The quickest lesson I learned was to always wear my face shield," said the pilot. "I did a lot of soul searching since the incident, and dealt with having to return to it every day, however, now that I'm back at the 129th, I've already volunteered for our next deployment rotation."