Capt. Lindsay Heisler receives 2019 Nininger Award for actions in Afghanistan

WEST POINT, N.Y. — In Capt. Lindsay Gordon Heisler’s mind she was just doing her job.

From the moment she began training as an Apache pilot following graduation from the U.S. Military Academy in 2012 it had been ingrained in her that her job was to keep the ground forces safe.

Flying 500 to 1,000 feet above the forces operating on the ground, she and her copilot were in constant contact with the friendly forces as they “watched their six” for enemy combatants.

After deploying to Afghanistan in April 2015 as a first lieutenant for nine months, the operation schedule had become routine. Most nights out of the week were spent on missions protecting helicopters infiltrating ground forces and then watching over the Soldiers as they executed their objective.

Eight months in, an enemy contact or two a night was not out of the ordinary so when their mission on Dec. 5, 2015 required her and her copilot to clear out an enemy fighting position it was just another mission on a long deployment.

When a few hours later, with the Chinook helicopters inbound to pick up the ground force, they were forced to engage with a second enemy fighting position it was still like countless other missions they had flown in the proceeding months.

Then, seconds before the Chinooks touched down to pickup the Soldiers on the ground, the world erupted with enemy fire coming from every direction. Surrounded by mountains on three sides and the desert across the border into Pakistan on the fourth, Heisler and the second Apache flying that night along with the Chinooks and the Rangers on the ground were suddenly under attack from what they would later learn were eight different enemy positions.

“None of the pilots who are there had seen anything like it before,” Heisler said. “I picture like Star Wars where you picture laser beams. It looks like that under your night vision goggles. It really accentuates any light you see so there are tracers of enemy fire everywhere.”

There was no time to think. While communicating with the forces on the ground and the other helicopters in the air Heisler and her copilot, Warrant Officer 2 David Woodward, sprang into action and began fighting back. They placed themselves between the ground force and the incoming fire and worked to keep the enemies’ heads down long enough for the Chinooks to land, pickup the Rangers and takeoff.

Anywhere they heard shots coming from they engaged. That was their job. To make sure the ground force got out safely and made it home alive.

“I don’t remember thinking a lot,” Heisler said. “We were just pulling the trigger because that’s what we knew we had to do to make sure that they got out of there.”

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Author: Dian Welle