Daniel Warren Earns Top Military Honor For Heroism
By masslive // March 17, 2015
'We were just trying to save our buddies'
Seven months after receiving a Bronze Star for Valor for helping to repel a Taliban attack in Afghanistan, Warren and two other members of the Florida-based 920th Rescue Wing had their names added to the Air Force’s MacKay Trophy following a harrowing rescue mission in South Sudan.
As a recipient, Warren joins an elite club that includes World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker, flight pioneer and World War II hero Jimmy Doolittle, test pilot and Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom and other Air Force legends on the trophy at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
“I’m blown away that we were fortunate enough to be honored,” said Daniel Warren.
“We were just trying to save our buddies lives with limited time and supplies.”
The mission was conducted on Dec. 21, 2013 in South Sudan but was only recently declassified, allowing participants to discuss it.
Amid a widening civil war, the U.S. State Department sent three CV-22 Ospreys and a special operations team to evacuate Americans from a United Nations base in Bor, a regional capital under siege by rebel fighters.
Also on the mission were Warren and two other pararescue jumpers, or PJs.
Trained in advanced combat, life-saving and survival skills and deployed on military and humanitarian missions, the pararescuemen are also known as “Guardian Angels” for all the downed pilots, wounded soldiers and disaster-stricken civilians they saved.
In February 2010, Warren and three PJs were credited with saving 15 Afghan civilians and helping 49 others trapped by a series of avalanches in the Hindu Kush mountain range.
Waist-deep snow, -40 degree temperatures, the threat of enemy attacks and the possibility of more avalanches only added to the challenge.
On a second deployment to Afghanistan, Warren earned a Bronze Star for Valor for his role in a five-hour firefight with insurgents at Camp Bastion in September, 2012.
Two Marines were killed, nine were wounded and $200 million worth of aircraft and equipment were destroyed during the Taliban raid, the costliest attack on an American installation since the Vietnam War.
The evacuation at Bor, by contrast, was billed as a quick, low-risk operation. Instead, the planes, code named Rooster 73, 74 and 75, were raked by ground fire on their approach to airfield.
“Bullets started bursting through the floor and smashing through the walls,” recalled Warren, leader of the 3-man pararescue team on Rooster 74.
“Bullets hit one guy’s water bottle splitting it in half. Some lodged in back packs.”
No one in Warren’s plane was hit, but three soldiers in Rooster 73 suffered gunshot wounds to their legs and fourth was shot in the back. More than 100 rounds struck each plane, damaging steering and hydraulic systems and puncturing fuel tanks.
Unable to land, the crippled aircraft took off for an airport in Entebbe, Uganda, where the wounded could receive emergency care before being flown to a hospital in Kenya.
But the airfield was 450 miles and 90 minutes away, assuming the planes could fly that far.
“For the rest of the flight, we were drenched in fuel and smoke and the fumes were so dense in the cabin it was hard to see anything,” Warren said.
As air crews struggled to keep the planes aloft, Warren’s team devised a plan to help the wounded beyond their reach in Rooster 73.
Using their plane’s intercom, Warren collected patient information, blood type and injury status of the four wounded soldiers.
With special medical kits, they began drawing blood from matching Rooster 74 crew members that could be transfused as soon as the planes landed.
The operation is called a “walking blood bank,” and Warren and Sgts. Jason Broline and Lee Von Hack-Prestinary had practiced it a few weeks before.
The aircraft, meanwhile, were undergoing midair refueling to replace fuel leaking from their bullet-riddled hulls.
“We were losing more fuel than we were taking on. The planes were waffling, shaking and trailing smoke the whole way,” said Warren. “The air crews saved us all.”
When the Ospreys touched down in Entebbe, the pararescue team’s real work began. With help from airport security, they commandeered two vans, ripped out the seats and loaded the wounded for a trip across the flight line to a waiting C-17 medical support plane.
“It was quite a sight, all doors open, litters and legs sticking out of two Toyota minivans filled with special ops guys,” Warren said.
With the bay of the C-17 serving as an emergency room, the pararescue team began treating the soldiers, providing oxygen, fluids, antibiotics, pain medication and more. Medics from the other planes and medical personnel from the airbase also helped.
The most critically injured soldier received two blood transfusions on the runway, and one more on the flight to Kenya.
After the second transfusion, the soldier’s “dark, ashen cyanotic skin started to flush with color,” Warren said.
“The walking blood bank was only a small part of the treatment we performed, but it saved this guy’s life without doubt,” he said.
About 30 minutes later, the C-17 carrying the four soldiers lifted off for Kenya.
All the wounded survived and the Ospreys – price: $71 million each – were repaired and returned to service.
“I just marvel at the skill and mental toughness of all involved,” said Warren’s father, Raymond, retired economic development director for Enfield, Conn. and current member of the Springfield Housing Authority’s governing board.
In November, 2014, Warren’s team and the crew of Rooster 73 had their names engraved on the McKay Trophy, the Air Force’s oldest and most prestigious honor.
During a ceremony in Washington D.C., Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welch III praised the airmen’s “surpassing acts of valor, bravery and patriotism.”
A month later, while speaking at an Air Force conference in Tampa, Warren received a less formal tribute. After the event, one of the wounded soldiers walked up and gave him a hug.
“It was nothing cheesy. Just thanks,” Warren said. “Just seeing him was good enough for me.”