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Ex-Yuman named Air Force Airman of the Year
Beversdorf recognized for actions following helicopter crash in Afghanistan
When the CH-47 Chinook Army helicopter he was aboard crashed atop a 10,000-foot mountain ridge in eastern Afghanistan last year, Staff Sgt. and former Yuma resident Christopher Beversdorf sprang into action, calling in medevacs for 12 wounded soldiers and later directing airstrikes against enemy forces who were constantly attacking them.
For his actions over those five days between June 24 and June 30, 2011, Beversdorf, 27, was recently recognized as the Air Force Airman of the Year at the annual USO gala in Washington, D.C., in front of more than 1,000 people.
“It's awesome to have been selected. It's definitely an event I will never forget,” said Beversdorf during a recent telephone interview from Wheeler Army Airfield in Hawaii, where he is stationed. “The award is more than I ever would have expected.”
Each year the USO recognizes service members who are recommended by senior enlisted personnel from the six branches of service for their acts of bravery and exemplary service. For Beversdorf, who is assigned to the 25th Air Support Operations Squadron, the recognition comes for events that happened during his fifth deployment, after having served two previous tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Beversdorf also received an Army Commendation Medal with a V for valor for his actions during those long, cold five days atop that mountain, with the citation reading, “Sgt. Beversdorf's actions significantly contributed towards the 40 enemy fighters reported as KIA, and helped to ensure zero friendly casualties as a result of enemy actions over this period.”
The citation also states that Beversdorf called in airstrike after airstrike by B-1, F-15 and F-16s against opposing forces during those five days, directing as many as 22 bombs in one day — some within what is known as “danger close” proximity of his own position.
“When you are calling in at danger close, you have to be really careful with what you are doing and what everyone else is doing,” Beversdorf said. “Bombs make big explosions. The closer you bring them in, the more risk you stand of not only getting the bad guys you want, but your own guys if you are off target.”
Beversdorf, who deploys with Army infantry units, said he was with a team of 29 U.S. and Afghan soldiers who were part of a quick reaction force sent to assist other soldiers who were under fire in the Watapor Valley during an operation called Hammer Down in the Kunbar Province.
“There was a mission going on and we were the backup for those guys, a quick reaction force,” said Beversdorf, who moved from Yuma to Glendale when he was 13. “If they got into a situation they needed help with, we were to go in and help them.”
They were almost at their designated landing spot, a ridgeline about fours miles away from where the battle was being fought, when Beversdorf said the helicopter experienced mechanical failure and hit the tops of several pine trees, falling 60 feet to the ground and quickly becoming engulfed in flames.
“Initially after the crash, we were unsure of what happened. We didn't know if we had been shot down, or what had happened. All we knew was that we had crashed,” Beversdorf said.
“The helicopter pretty much got ripped in half. All the rotors got shredded, and the top rear half got ripped off and flipped over on itself.”
Within moments of the wreck, Beversdorf was helping to move fellow troops away from the burning wreckage and assisting with the treatment of the wounded, some of whom received serious injuries. He also called in the medevac helicopters that extracted all the wounded.
“Minus a little scratch on my nose, from who knows what, I was all right,” Beversdorf said.
After the injured were flown out, Beversdorf said, he and the remaining soldiers stayed near the downed helicopter while commanders decided whether to airlift it out or have it destroyed where it had crashed. At that point, he established communications with a B-1B bomber and began working to secure the perimeter by directing defensive aerial scans around their position.
The first attack on the crash site came about four to five hours after the wreck, when enemy fighters attacked his unit with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine-gun fire. Beversdorf said he was able to pinpoint where they were and had a 2,000-pound bomb dropped onto their position.
Beversdorf said just before sunset, a second attack was mounted and this time he called in an airstrike that dropped two 500-pound bombs to fend them off. He added that the first couple of days, the attacks were from groups of three to five attackers, but as the days wore on, the attacks involved 15 to 20 fighters.
“When something like that happens, it is a surprise because you know something is going to happen, you just don't know when it is going to happen.”
While reinforcements arrived on the second day — from a scout unit that was in the area — increasing the total number of friendly forces at the site, so did more enemy fighters. That day, Beversdorf said, they were attacked simultaneously from three sides, with him calling in airstrikes on all three enemy positions, all impacting within 15 minutes of each other.
“We would be attacked two or three times a day. I'm not really sure if they were Taliban or angry people who just wanted to fight. Some of the enemy got within 75 to 100 feet.”
Beversdorf said the best way to describe the area he and the other soldiers were in would be terrain around Flagstaff, with wooded trees and tall grass. Although it was in June, he added, it was also cold and rainy due to their altitude.
Beversdorf said as the days passed, the attacks against them became more complex and aggressive, with the largest attacks coming on the last day.
“The last day was really busy. They knew we were there, where we were and how we were set up.”
Eventually Beversdorf and his fellow soldiers were extracted from the crash, and another tactical air controller called in an airstrike — a 500-pound bomb — that obliterated what was left of the downed Chinook.
Beversdorf doesn't see anything special about what he did those days, saying he was only doing what he was trained to do and was one of more than 100 U.S. and Afghan forces who were in the area to conduct the missions as part of the overall combat operation.
“When it comes to the crash itself, I can say we were really lucky more people weren't hurt and that no one died. It was a nasty crash. When it comes down to the fighting, we were just trained better and knew how to fight. And that is what we did. We kicked (butt) and came out pretty successful.”
Although he moved to Glendale, Beversdorf said he still considers Yuma home and that his mother, cousins, aunts and uncles still live here. He added that he tries to return Yuma every couple of years to visit.
James Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.