For Bonney Lake graduate Robert Wells, August 4, 2012, “started off like any other day.”
Wells was stationed in Okinawa, Japan flying in the Air Force for Combat Rescue.
As the day started, Wells and the 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron were loading up their aircraft as a call came over the radio.
Wells said the call was, “Attention to the net. Scramble, scramble, scramble!”
Once their gear was loaded, they took off to complete the mission.
The mission, Wells said, was initially to pickup two New Zealand patients. And once they were on their way he said, five more were added to be picked up.
Along the way, the crew determined how much fuel would be needed to accomplish the mission and the tactical operations center was coordinating a helicopter air refuel with the HC-130P Rescue Kings. They would fly up from Bastion in Southern Afghanistan and wait in case Wells and his crew needed more fuel.
Wells’ aircraft, Pedro 84, was joined by the lead aircraft, Pedro 83.
Both aircrafts flew to the medical facility that was roughly 40 miles away, Wells said.
Once they dropped off their patients, he said they received another call that three more patients needed to be picked up.
Pedro 84 and 83 went back to pick up the patients and as they were picking up speed to head back to the medical facility, Wells said they heard over the radio “Pedro 84 cease fire.”
“At that point, you could hear a pin drop in our aircraft as we processed the last radio call,” he said.
Pedro 83 called out to Wells’ aircraft where they were taking fire and Pedro 84 got into position.
Once Pedro 83 exited the area, Wells said he immediately began firing on the targets.
Pedro 83 returned and both aircrafts were firing on the threat, Wells said.
Pedro 83 finished their mission and made their way to the medical facility leaving Wells and his aircraft.
Due to the extra 10 to 20 minutes spent fighting, Wells said they soon realized both aircrafts would not have enough fuel to make it to the medical facility.
The HC-130P Rescue Kings made their way to Wells’ aircraft.
He said, “after five long minutes,” he spotted the Rescue Kings coming in.
Pedro 83 filled up first with no problems and once they finished, Wells said they finally made their way to the nearby medical facility.
After a few attempts, Pedro 84 wasn’t connecting with the HC-130P.
Finally, on what they thought would be their last attempt, Wells said the co-pilot was able to connect the hose and Pedro 84 was able to refuel.
Once back at the medical facility, Wells said they were able to fully refuel and after a few hours they returned to base.
Wells said after his aircraft went to pick up two New Zealand personnel who died and return their remains to the Bagram Air Force Base.
Wells said this mission was seven hours spent flying with a few spent on the ground.
“This was one of the most hectic days of my flying career due to the complexity of the mission,” Wells said.
They train a lot to refuel while in the air but not many have had to refuel on a mission, he said.
“The most stressful part of that mission was waiting for the tanker to give us our gas and when we almost destroyed the refueling basket,” Wells said.
Wells said it was a “huge relief” that the refueling worked out.
He added the shooting was a “normal amount of stress” and said his training “really kicked in.”
“I just knew that we were in trouble and I could help out with that.”
In Combat Rescue, Wells said, “it isn’t about race, religion or politics, it is about the guy in trouble on the ground.”
Every time they save someone’s life, Wells said it;s satisfying and this time was no different.
“We were just a normal group of Combat Rescue airmen put into an extraordinary situation,” Wells said. “We were doing what anyone else in rescue would have (done).”
Wells and the rest of his crew were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The Chief of Staff and the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force presented them with their medals at a ceremony held at their base theater.
He described the award ceremony as being “intense.”
“It was a very humbling experience and I was extremely nervous the whole time,: he said.
Wells has since been promoted from senior airman to staff sergeant in February 2013.
He said he would like to give praise to the men and women of the New Zealand Armed Forces.
“They were the true heroes that day on the ground,” he said. “All we did was just provide a little assistance to them.”
Wells also sends his thoughts to the families of the two fallen members from that day.