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Sun, May 15, 2005

Flight Engineer Earns Pitsenbarger Award

Bravery In Action

Master Sgt. Robert Colannino Jr. has been named the 2005 Pitsenbarger award winner for his display of heroism in the face of enemy fire. Colannino is a helicopter flight engineer from Hurlburt Field, Florida.

The award is named after Medal of Honor recipient William H. Pitsenbarger, a pararescueman who died in Vietnam after bravely leaving his helicopter to assist wounded troops on the ground on April 11th, 1966.  (AF Photo)

Sergeant Colannino was aboard an MH-53M Pave Low during a night resupply mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom when a rocket-propelled grenade struck his helicopter.

The RPG impacted the chopper and exploded inside the cockpit directly between the pilots and Sergeant Colannino. The three crewmembers in the cockpit were injured from shrapnel and debris, and the other flight engineer, sitting below the overhead control panel, was incapacitated by the blast

The pilot landed the badly crippled aircraft in an open field. Sergeant Colannino jumped into action with his weapon in hand to defend his aircraft and crew. He heard the other engineer cry for help and Colannino lowered the back of the seat, released his restraining belt and pulled the engineer out of the cockpit into the cabin to assess his injuries.

He immediately administered first aid and then focused his attention on the other crewmembers' injuries. He helped one of the pilots get out of his seat because an eye injury interfered with his vision.

Sergeant Colannino heard the aircraft commander shout that he needed help shutting down the aircraft because the sound of the helicopter was drawing the enemy to their position. As the enemy approached and mortar rounds began falling, Colannino found the fuel cables that ran the length of the cabin and pulled them to stop the engines. His actions resulted in stopping the rotors and allowing the crew and team to escape.

Sergeant Colannino carried the injured flight engineer to safety on the recovery aircraft and continued first aid on the injured flight engineer until they landed safely.

The Air Force Sergeant's Association gives the Pitsenbarger Award annually to an Air Force enlisted member for heroic acts, on or off duty, that save a life or prevent serious injury.  Sergeant Colannino is now authorized to wear the Air Force Recognition Ribbon. The award will be presented during an AFSA hosted Air Force honors banquet August 3rd in Dallas, Texas.

FMI: www.afpc.randolph.af.mil

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