FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) - Running low on fuel and ammunition, Fort Campbell-based helicopter pilot Chief Warrant Officer 5 David Cooper faced a difficult decision during a firefight in central Iraq in 2006.
Cooper's AH-6 helicopter was the lone aircraft protecting a group of special operations soldiers stranded in the desert after a second helicopter was shot down. They were outnumbered, outgunned and taking fire from three sides.
Instead of leaving the firefight, Cooper decided to land his helicopter and transfer fuel and ammunition from the downed aircraft. His risky decision and courage under extreme danger led the Army to award Cooper the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest military decoration, during a ceremony at Fort Campbell on Friday.
The 48-year-old pilot from Cincinnati is the first living aviator to be given the award since the war began in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Although his decision to land in the middle of the fight left them vulnerable to attack, Cooper was able to quickly return to the air and continue fighting off the attackers. But Cooper said there was an additional concern about the safety of firing the rockets that were recovered from the crash site.
"The rockets have a big warning label on them that says don't use if they've been dropped more than two feet," Cooper said. "And those rockets I was using were just involved in a catastrophic aircraft accident.