U.S. Army / Bronze Star with Valor
Army medic avoided persistent sniper fire to help evacuate
five seriously injured comrades
Rock, paper, scissors.
That’s how Army flight medics Rob Congdon and Aughe McQuown decided who would be first out the ramp of a bombed-out Stryker to face a barrage of sniper bullets. Their medical evacuation teams had been dispatched to rescue five seriously wounded soldiers 20 miles north of Baghdad along the Tigris River.
“It was just a single shooter,” Congdon, a former lifeguard and paramedic from Las Vegas, said of the 35-minute ordeal on Jan. 18, 2008.
The two staff sergeants had been dropped off a considerable distance away by Black Hawk medevac helicopters. Their pilots feared that a second roadside bomb could detonate if they tried to land near the disabled armored vehicle.
With one American soldier dead in the bomb-blast crater, the rescuers would have to take a different approach, sprinting 90 yards through tall grass to reach the wounded.
Three wounded were put on stretchers and hauled back with the help of infantrymen who had survived the explosion.
Out of stretchers, Congdon and McQuown returned to carry on their backs the last two wounded. One lay crippled on the Stryker’s ramp with a broken back and shrapnel wounds to his legs.
“He couldn’t walk, much less run,” Congdon recalled.
That’s when the sniper, hiding in a nearby building, opened fire.
As bullets whizzed by their heads and feet, Congdon used his boot to push the crippled soldier back inside the Stryker. Then they ducked inside the armored vehicle and raised its ramp to close off the sniper’s angle.
Congdon alertly put on the Stryker operator’s helmet and radioed back to the waiting helicopters about the encounter.
The message was relayed to Apache attack helicopters that swooped in and fired 30mm cannons to suppress the sniper.
Or so they thought.
“We thought, ‘All right. Cool.’ So we lowered the ramp,” with McQuown, slightly stockier than the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Congdon, leading the way.
“It was easier for me to hang out behind him,” Congdon said of his best friend, who had lost the “rock, paper, scissors” when Congdon chose rock.
“As soon as we started lowering the ramp, the guy shot at us again.”
They hustled back inside.
After a lull, and with an Army quick reaction force (QRF) arriving at the scene, the sniper opened up again, this time on the approaching soldiers.
“Seeing the opportunity, we tried to make it back to the aircraft,” Congdon said. “Again he started shooting at us. So we went back inside, raised the ramp up and told the Apaches they need to do a little bit better job, because he’s now engaging us and the QRF column.”
The Apaches increased their strafing runs between the Stryker and the sniper’s location.
“With that, we took off,” Congdon said. McQuown went first with one patient over his back. Once McQuown made it halfway to the rescue choppers, Congdon took off with the other soldier.
Because the soldier was so tall, Congdon said he needed help from the infantry team’s platoon leader: “We kind of drug him. His feet were dangling as we ran.”
About halfway to the helicopters, the gunman “figured out what we were trying to do and opened fire, but it wasn’t as aimed as he had done before,” Congdon said. “It was more of a ‘spray and pray.’ Put up enough rounds at me, and hopefully one of them hits.”
They made it safely to the helicopters for a 10-minute flight to a Balad hospital, where all five wounded soldiers survived. The quick reaction force later located and killed the sniper.
In February 2008, Gen. Richard Cody, vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army, presented the medevac team members with Bronze Star medals for valor. Congdon received his after returning from leave on March 1, 2008.
Now, more than a year later, Congdon said this rescue wasn’t any more heroic than others he was a part of as an infantry medic.
“It’s easy to be John Wayne when you’re in the infantry, because you have enough firepower to back you up,” he said. “But as a flight medic, you just have your M-4 and your pistol.
“I still don’t see it as anything heroic. That’s my job.”
Keith Rogers covers the military for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
U.S. Army / Bronze Star with Valor
Born July 20, 1973, in Las Vegas.
Wife, Bonnie Kay; daughter, Samantha.
Has been assigned to Company C, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, 3rd Aviation Regiment, since joining the Army. Has served two tours of duty in Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
His brother, 1st Sgt. Michael Congdon, is an Army recruiter in Reno.
WHAT HE DID
The flight medic dodged sniper fire while rescuing wounded soldiers from an armored vehicle that had been blasted by a roadside bomb near Baghdad.
WHERE HE IS NOW
Has been deployed to Afghanistan since September with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, 3rd Aviation Regiment.
WHY HE JOINED THE ARMY
“I joined the Army for what would be considered corny with this generation. I joined for the old-fashioned reason that it was my duty. I spent a lot of time with my grandpa as a kid, hearing his stories of his 30-year career.”
Iraq / 20 Miles North Of Baghdad