“How could I talk to the mother or father of one these boys and say, ‘I was just too afraid to go’?”
On July 17, 2009, California Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Emmett Spraktes was serving as a flight medic in northern Afghanistan. His team, aboard a Black Hawk helicopter, was returning from a mission when they received a call to assist with a medical evacuation. A nearby infantry platoon had been ambushed by the Taliban.
The Americans were still taking fire when Spraktes’ team arrived on the scene. Notwithstanding the danger, they flew the Black Hawk in. Spraktes volunteered to be lowered on a cable to treat the wounded.
“We’re up there, and we know we can’t land and there’s a risk, but I imagine looking into the eyes of a [Soldier’s] parent and saying, ‘I can’t do this,’” Spraktes explained in a thrilling account by a reporter with the California National Guard. “How could I talk to the mother or father of one these boys and say, ‘I was just too afraid to go’?”
“Moments later,” continues the story, “when the cable stopped moving only part-way to the ground – making Spraktes a sitting target above the battlefield – it was his own children who came to mind.”
“’You love me?’ came the confused response.
“’Not you, you idiot!’ Spraktes yelled. ‘My kids!’ The men shared a momentary laugh amid the gunfire, and then the cable started moving again.”
Spraktes reached the ground and began tending to the wounded, even as gunshots and explosions echoes around him. The helicopter retreated to a safer location.
Spraktes started with the most injured man. “The patient had a significant wound from a RPG blast, taking off a lot of the flesh of his upper arm. He had a lot of blood all over him,” Spraktes told a California television reporter.
With shots being fired around them, Spratkes treated the man. The helicopter crew returned, hoisted him up, and evacuated him to a nearby base.
Next Spratkes treated two other men, all while providing his own suppressive gunfire and distributing ammunition to the other platoon members. The helicopter returned and hoisted the men, one by one, to safety.
“By the grace of God we were not hit,” the co-pilot remarked to the California National Guard reporter. “I have no idea how you miss a giant Black Hawk helicopter. It was really surreal.”
“After dropping off patients for the second time, the Black Hawk returned to find that Spraktes was treating two Soldiers for dehydration. He again deferred his place on the aircraft to the injured soldiers and sent the Black Hawk on its way, this time telling the crew he would stay on the ground and return to base on foot.
“Spraktes’ crew would hear nothing of it, though, and returned to the dangerous location for a sixth time to perform yet another combat hoist extraction, finally bringing Spraktes to safety.”
Spraktes’ valor citation states, “Without question, Spraktes and [his team] prevented the loss of Soldiers’ lives.”
Spraktes went on to write a book about his experiences entitled Selfish Prayer.
For his actions on July 17, 2009, Emmett Spraktes received the Silver Star, the third-highest award given for distinctive gallantry. Three other crew members received the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Device.
We salute your valor.