All Chief Warrant Officer 5 David Cooper’s family knew of Nov. 27, 2006, was that it had been “a really tough day” at work for him. Repeatedly flying into heavy enemy fire to divert attacks away from his comrades on the ground was probably not what they had in mind. But as the AH-6 Little Bird flight lead against a foreign fighter facilitator in central Iraq, that’s just what Cooper ended up doing.
Although it seemed like a routine mission at first, Cooper’s training had taught him to always expect the unexpected. While moving between staging locations for the operation, Cooper’s wingman was shot down by enemy fire. The remaining helicopter assault force, made up of Cooper’s AH-6, two MH-6s and two MH-60 Black Hawks, landed and began setting up a perimeter around the downed aircraft. Although there were no serious injuries, the aircraft was not flyable.
The two Black Hawks returned to base with the pilots of the downed aircraft in order to get an aircraft recovery team. In the meantime, about 20 special operations forces personnel were left to defend the crash site, which was surrounded for miles by flat, open desert.
About 40 minutes after the crash, enemy personnel appeared and began firing on the position. With no cover available, the ground forces were sitting ducks. At about the same time, Cooper and his co-pilot were making preparations to take off and get an aerial view of the situation. His AH-6 may as well have had a giant bulls-eye painted on its side. As soon as he lifted off, he became the target for the enemy fire.
Flying directly into the oncoming fire, Cooper began attacking enemy positions and attempted to divert fire away from the ground forces. Like a boxer going to his corner between rounds, twice Cooper landed his Little Bird near the crash site, where his fellow pilots brought ammunition and fuel from the other aircraft and loaded it onto his. The help of his fellow Night Stalkers kept him in the fight as long as possible. After a third series of aerial gunnery attacks, the enemy ceased fire and fled the area.
Cooper said that without the help of the entire force, the battle could have taken a disastrous turn. “As those pilots were taking out ammunition and loading my helicopter, they were in absolute plain sight of a determined enemy who was hell-bent to kill them, and yet they did not quit,” Cooper said. “And it is (because of) them that I am lucky enough to be standing here today.”
Because of their actions that day, the members of that crew, including Cooper, were highly decorated. For his selfless service and complete disregard for his own safety over that of his comrades, Cooper was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. That day, Cooper and his brothers-in-arms on the ground truly lived up to the Night Stalker motto, “Night Stalkers don’t quit!”