Fort Bliss pilots describe how they rescued an Army officer in the wilderness

Monica Cortez(KTSM)
Fort Bliss

POSTED: Thursday, November 14, 2013 - 5:54pm

UPDATED: Friday, November 15, 2013 - 7:10pm

A Fort Bliss Soldier is back home with his family, after spending two nights lost and alone in the Gila Wilderness.

The Army dental officer was rescued early Wednesday morning after being stranded in the Gila National Forest in freezing conditions.

But the real story is how Fort Bliss reacted to the rescue.

It’s a mission that isn't typically executed in the borderland.

A team of Fort Bliss Soldiers were brought together in a matter of minutes to rescue one of their comrades.

In fewer than 15 minutes the UH-60 aircraft was up in the air searching for MAJ Jeremy Thompson.

"That night we were coming in for a routine mission,” said CW2 Johnny Pickett, UH-60 Pilot. “And we got the word from higher that a service member was lost or stranded in the forest.. so it was a dynamic mission change for us."

Thompson and his two dogs were reported missing in the Gila National Forest near Truth or Consequences Sunday.

Shortly after, a helicopter was sent late Monday to look for him.

But it was the communication between Fort Bliss and New Mexico state officials that potentially saved his life.

"There was a lot of coordination that took place behind the scenes,” said LTC Milton Quiros, Chief of Current Operations. “We had to make sure the air force rescue coordination center requested our help we just couldn't launch and go there."

The technology used? An infrared heat radar that can spot someone miles away.

It was just one of the instruments used to find the Army officer.

"'Those are the antennas on top of the franklin mountains," said Pickett pointing out the mountains from a screen inside the helicopter - as a demonstration.

"You can see how far and how good this infrared system is," said Pickett.

And this type of mission is nothing new for this crew.

They are fresh from the battlefield, where the scenery is similar.

"We’ve all just returned about a month or so from Afghanistan,’ said CW3 Joshua Marshall, UH-60 Pilot. “Actually the terrain that we were dealing with other than the trees being there are extremely similar to Afghanistan."

But at the end of the day, Pickett said it was a huge sense of accomplishment knowing the mission was successful.

“For me it gives me great personal satisfaction you know that I was part of the team that actually found him and brought him back home safely,” he said.

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