Military


T-AK 4638 A1C William H. Pitsenbarger

The MV A1C William H. Pitsenbarger is 621 feet long and 105 feet wide and carries a crew of 23 civilian mariners. The civilian-crewed, 621-foot container ship is owned by RR & VO L.L.C. and operated by Red River Shipping Corp. of Rockville, Md., the operator of the Buffalo Soldier, under a five-year charter to MSC. The ship will preposition ammunition and supplies in Diego Garcia, as did the Buffalo Soldier. The company acquired the 621-foot geared containership, originally the Therese Delmas, from French owners to fill the new charter. The Buffalo Soldier has since returned to the US.

The ship can carry about 885 container equivalents, 720 under deck and 135 in compartments above deck. Both cargo areas will be air-conditioned and dehumidified to protect the cargo of ammunition it carries. The Pitsenbarger has five cranes on the deck that allow the ship to on- and off-load ammunition without shoreside cranes. This feature gives Pitsenbarger the flexibility to off-load in undeveloped ports. The chartered ship, operated for the Navy's Military Sealift Command, will be used to preposition Air Force ammunition at sea near potential war or contingency sites, adding greatly to the U.S. military's combat readiness.

The Pitsenbarger operates from the Diego Garcia area in the Indian Ocean. In Diego Garcia, the Pitsenbarger prepositions ordnance for the Air Force as part of Military Sealift Command's Afloat Prepositioning Force, which is comprised of merchant and military vessels crewed by contract civilian seafarers and provides the U.S. armed services with rapid deployment of vehicles, ammunition, weapons and other supplies to areas of conflict around the world.

Pitsenbarger, an Air Force war hero and Medal of Honor recipient, was honored at a Navy ship-naming ceremony 28 November 2001. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for treating and protecting scores of wounded infantrymen while under intense enemy fire at an enemy stronghold near the Vietnamese capital of Saigon on April 11, 1966, and was mortally wounded himself. 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 a serious injury.

On April 11, 1966, 21-year-old Airman 1st Class Pitsenbarger was lowered from a hovering helicopter through the dense jungles near Cam My, Republic of Vietnam, into the midst of heavy gunfire. A para-rescueman of the 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, Pitsenbarger volunteered to board the rescue helicopter to evacuate U.S. Army casualties. The young enlisted man, affectionately known as "Pits," was nearing his 300th combat mission.

When Pits' helicopter was struck by enemy fire he had a choice -- to climb into the litter basket to depart with the helicopter or stay behind. Pits chose to stay behind and assist the wounded. He treated the wounded and joined the infantrymen with a rifle to hold off the Viet Cong. Despite being wounded three times, Pitsenbarger continued to simultaneously treat the wounded and ward off the enemy until he succumbed to the bullet of a sniper. When his body was recovered the following day, one hand still held a medical kit and the other, a rifle.

Following A1C William H. Pitsenbarger's heroic sacrifice, Army Sgt. Fred Navarro detailed Pitsenbarger's actions in a taped statement for the Air Force and recommended him for the Medal of Honor. Through the award process, the recommendation was downgraded to the Air Force Cross, the second highest Air Force Award. Pitsenbarger's parents received the award on his behalf on Sept. 22, 1966 -- making him the first Air Force enlisted man to receive that award.

Over time, Pitsenbarger's valiant actions became Air Force legend for embodying the pararescue motto -- "that others may live." After numerous private citizens and federal officials campaigned to have Pitsenbarger's story revisited in the 1990s, his award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor. Pitsenbarger's father accepted the Medal of Honor on Pitsenbarger's behalf on Dec. 8, 2000, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in his home state of Ohio -- 34 years after his courageous actions in the jungles of Vietnam.



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