Paul Steven Ghiringhelli
A 10th Mountain Division (LI) flight medic who performed dangerous missions in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan last year received a prestigious USO award Tuesday during an event at the Plaza Hotel in midtown Manhattan.
Sgt. Julia Bringloe, who deployed with the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, received one of five Military Leadership Awards during the USO’s 46th annual Woman of the Year Luncheon sponsored by the USO of Metropolitan New York.
“(This award) is given to service members who, through their selfless dedication to their jobs, inspire others and lift the spirits of their comrades, their Families and the American people,” said Brian Whiting, CEO and president of the USO of Metropolitan New York. “Sgt. Bringloe was selected as the Military Leadership honoree for the Army for her incredible service to this nation.”
One outstanding service woman from each branch of the military received the Military Leadership Award. Whiting said recipients were chosen through a competitive nomination process that made final selections quite difficult.
In addition to five MLAs, the USO singled out one military and one civilian honoree to receive the USO Woman of the Year award. The two women this year were Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody, commanding general of U.S. Army Materiel Command, and Marillyn A. Hewson, an executive at Lockheed Martin Corp. recently elected to become the next president and chief operating officer of the corporation.
Dunwoody, who commanded the former Division Support Command at Fort Drum from 1996 to 1998, is the U.S. Army’s first and only female four-star general.
“It was an indescribable honor to receive the award and to be in the company of such powerful women,” Bringloe said after receiving the award Tuesday. “It was particularly special to meet Gen. Dunwoody, who is an inspiration to any woman — military or not.”
The 39-year-old sergeant said it’s important for all female Soldiers to be encouraged to reach for the stars.
“I try to conduct myself in the military not as a woman, but as a Soldier,” Bringloe said. “I’m not saying that I am trying to compete with men, but I believe that I should be able to do my job as well as my male counterparts, because we’re talking about a job, not the gender.”
The New York event was co-emceed by Natalie Morales, news anchor of NBC’s “Today,” and retired Col. Jack Jacobs, MSNBC military analyst and a Medal of Honor recipient.
Ann Curry, co-host of NBC’s “Today,” conducted a question-and-answer session with Hewson and Dunwoody, before presenting them with their USO Woman of the Year awards.
Bringloe, unaware that she had even been nominated for the award, credited Army leadership with helping her achieve success. She said she has been fortunate to be surrounded by people who help her in everything from training capacities at U.S.-based installations to medevac missions in the foreboding Kunar Valley of eastern Afghanistan.
“I have had outstanding leadership from the time that I went to my first unit,” said Bringloe, who enlisted in 2007. “That has developed me into the Soldier I am now.
“I hope this award can be an example of how, in a short period of time, a Soldier can do great things if facilitated with good leadership,” she said.
‘Tip of the Spear’
Staff Sgt. Brian Cammack, C Company’s flight medic standardization instructor, said halfway through last year’s deployment, Bringloe volunteered to move all of her personal belongings from a relatively nonhostile area near Bagram to a highly kinetic and dangerous area in Jalalabad.
“Bringloe drove on with a ‘mission first’ attitude and a willingness to place the lives of her Soldiers before her own,” Cammack said. “She flew medevac missions into well-known hostile territory, often when the medevac request even stated ‘enemy in the area.’”
Cammack said Bringloe’s calm courage and medical expertise also were displayed on critical care transport missions, when she maintained patients with extensive injuries, from severe traumatic brain injuries to multiple gunshot wounds.
“All of these challenges,” Cammack said, “ranging (from) the difficulty of maintaining supply and maintenance in a combat zone, being actively engaged by the enemy on extremely difficult rescue hoist missions, and maintaining the lives of critical care patients would cripple the mental capacity of the average Soldier.
“(But) Bringloe persevered throughout multiple arduous situations, continuously motivating the Soldiers of the platoon and setting the example for her leaders, peers and subordinates to follow,” he said.
When Bringloe’s sister ship was incapacitated last June during Operation Hammerdown, the four-person crew aboard her UH-60 Black Hawk became the only medevac asset in the region.
On the first day of extractions June 25, 2011, with her Black Hawk hovering in the dusk at roughly 10,000 feet, Bringloe was lowered to the ground, where she quickly removed her patient from a skid and prepared to hoist him more than 150 feet up.
As they left the ground, Bringloe said the hoist swung toward a tree, which she could barely see. With both legs extended, she saved her patient from impact, but fractured her left leg in the collision.
“In some of the write-ups I’ve seen, you would think my leg was dangling off of (my torso),” she said with a laugh. “But really it was just a small fracture.”
Despite the pain that continued after that first day, she said pure adrenaline helped her continue hoisting wounded Soldiers to safety over the next 60 hours with little to no rest and the sporadic onslaught of enemy fire, including heavy small-arms fire during a hoist mission involving the extraction of an Afghan interpreter who had lost his life.
After Operation Hammerdown, the pain in her leg persisted for many weeks. Bringloe said she did not even know there was a break in her leg until she redeployed to Fort Drum in early September.
“We were real light on medics,” she said. “I did not even think to have it really looked at.”
The brave actions of Bringloe and her crew led to a command request for the Distinguished Flying Cross — an award ranking just below the Legion of Merit that recognizes Soldiers for valor in combat.
Bringloe’s other three crew members were Chief Warrant Officer 2 Eric Sabiston, pilot in command; Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kenneth Brodhead, pilot; and Spc. David Capps, crew chief.
Bringloe received the Air Medal with a Valor device for a different mission in the same valley.
“I like doing my job, and my job is down range … picking up Soldiers who have been injured and getting them the help they need,” she said. “I admit that I am a better deployed Soldier than I am a garrison Soldier.”
In addition to the USO award, Bringloe and her crew were recognized earlier this year by the Army Aviation Association of America for their actions last June in the Kunar Valley. The four Soldiers received the AAAA Air/Sea Rescue of the Year award for using a rescue hoist that “saved the life or eased the suffering of an individual.”
Her company first sergeant at Fort Drum said Bringloe’s competence and determination is both remarkable and brave.
“Sgt. Bringloe exemplifies what an NCO and flight medic in today’s Army should be,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Walker, first sergeant of 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment. “Her passion to provide care for the Soldiers that she supports and accomplish the mission is only equaled by the courage she demonstrates on every medevac call.
“It is often said that medevac is the most sacred mission on today’s battlefield,” Walker added. “She epitomizes our company motto: “When I Have Your Wounded!”
Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Patton, 10th CAB senior enlisted adviser, said he is proud of every one of his medics. He noted 3-10 GSAB had only nine months of dwell time after returning from their tour in Iraq in 2009.
“She volunteered to do this, to be in the teeth of the fight, the tip of the spear, and whenever that aircraft went in — no matter the situation,” Patton said proudly. “(Sgt. Bringloe) is a good Soldier.”
Patton also expressed his deep appreciation for the USO, an organization founded in Times Square in 1941 as a response to a request by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide morale and recreational support for uniformed service members.
“It’s an organization that … just spans time,” he said. “We hear our fathers talking about the USO, whether it was during World War II, Vietnam or Korea.
“(It’s) superb in everything that it does for Soldiers and Soldiers’ Families and the military community,” he added.
Bringloe also expressed her gratitude for the USO, calling the organization a great supporter of America’s fighting men and women.
“As Soldiers, the USO has a lot of significance for us,” she said. “I have to admit that I am not one of those people who can easily get teary-eyed. But I have come home from long trips and long deployments many times.
“The volunteers who greet you at the airport and help you on your way are like angels,” Bringloe added. “It means a lot, and I know it does for every fellow Soldier.”
Born in Seattle, Wash., Bringloe moved to Hawaii to attend boarding school as a teenager. She was a professional carpenter for more than a decade before joining the Army.
“I knew that I wanted to do something bigger than myself,” she said. “Here, on a daily basis, whether it’s a junior-enlisted Soldier who needs help or a patient in need of help, my whole job encompasses helping people in one form or another. And it helps my country out.”
Bringloe has a 13-year-old son, John Ekstrom, who is currently living in Hawaii with his father. Despite multiple combat tours, Bringloe said in the eyes of her son, she is “just Mom.”
“A crazy mom at that,” she said.
Bringloe arrived at C Company, 3-10 GSAB, in April 2010. She went directly to flight medic school in Fort Rucker, Ala., and finished the rest of her training with her unit ahead of its deployment to Afghanistan last summer.
She reported to Fort Drum from Grafenwohr, Germany, where she was a ground medic and had previously deployed with the 172nd Infantry Brigade to Iraq.
While deployed to Afghanistan, her unit fell under the authority Regional Command - East, which has its headquarters in Bagram.
A few months after returning from Afghanistan, she moved to Fort Sam Houston, where she is currently assigned to a paramedic program at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.
Bringloe, who anticipates returning to her former unit at Fort Drum in October, said nearly 30 Soldiers from across the Army are involved in the pilot program, which takes flight medics and makes them paramedics.
With her work as a flight medic drawing so much recognition over the past year, Bringloe looks to keep things in perspective.
“The spotlight sort of came on us because of our missions in Afghanistan,” she said. “But I do want people to understand that any one of my fellow Soldiers doing this kind of work would have done the exact same thing that we did during those days. We just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time.
“Anybody else would have accomplished that mission with the same fervor that we (had),” Bringloe added. “And that’s something I’m very proud of — the kind of people I work with.”