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Army pilot's heroism follows persistence

Capt. Paul Long, 29, accepting the flag, has been nominated for the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions during a battle in Afghanistan.

Photo courtesy of state Rep. Janet Long

Capt. Paul Long, 29, accepting the flag, has been nominated for the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions during a battle in Afghanistan.

SEMINOLE — All Paul Long wanted to do from the time he enrolled in ROTC was to fly. Trouble was, his eyesight was so bad he flunked the physical.

But he wasn't discouraged. He saved the money he was earning at Publix and paid for his own Lasik surgery. Still the flight surgeons weren't impressed. They again denied him flight school.

Long appealed and won. Now he's been nominated to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism and exceptionally meritorious achievement during a battle in Afghanistan.

His proud mom, state Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole, told the story of her son's determination. "I'm pretty proud, I have to say. It's just extraordinary," she said. "It's hard to wrap my mind around the magnificent human being he has become."

Paul Long, 29, grew up in Seminole. He graduated from Clearwater Central Catholic High School before attending Saint Leo University. Later he transferred to the University of Central Florida and graduated from the University of South Florida. Five days after he graduated, he was commissioned an officer in the U.S. Army.

Long was stationed in Korea for two years where he was promoted to captain. Last Christmas, he received orders to go to Afghanistan.

"I boo-hooed the whole month of January," his mother said.

Since then, he has flown six to seven hours a day.

He flew his AH-64D Apache Longbow combat helicopter out of Kandahar Airfield on May 18 on an air support mission. About 10 minutes into the flight he heard a report that other U.S. Army aircraft were being attacked. Long joined the battle.

Long was unscathed after his first pass at the enemy on the ground, but when he turned to attack again, he "again came under intense enemy fire and was hit three times … which disabled his primary weapons system … and caused a fuel leak," according to the Army report. "Without regard for his own personal safety he completed the attack," and though his main weapons did not work, he went back three more times.

During his fifth and final run, "a massive explosion occurred underneath the aircraft, lifting the aircraft forward and pushing it down."

Although it appeared he was about to crash, Long managed to fly back to the base for refueling so he could continue fighting. The helicopter was too damaged to do so because it was leaking fuel, its cannon did not work and the aircraft had multiple bullet holes. He asked for another aircraft but was refused.

So he called home. It was only the third time his mother had talked with him since his deployment.

"I was terrified for one thing because it was a 4 a.m. on Sunday phone call," Janet Long said. "Before he said hello, he said, 'I love you, Mom.' It just gave me goose bumps. I think he just felt a real need to connect with home. The more he talked about it, the more he started to get calmer."

Janet Long said he ended his tale with the comment: "It's high adventure, Mom. It's just high adventure."

Last week, Long got news that he'd been nominated for the DFC, awarded for heroism and/or extraordinary achievement during flight.

"I cried. I couldn't believe it," Janet Long said. "My mind went back … from the time when he was very little, he was always afraid of thunder and lightning. The sound would send him for cover."

>>fast facts

The Distinguished Flying Cross

The DFC is awarded to men and women from all military services for heroics or deeds during flight. It is unclear how many people have received the DFC but some of the most famous are listed below.

Then-Capt. Charles A. Lindbergh of the Army Corps Reserves received the first DFC medal on June 11, 1927, for making the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd of the Navy Air Corps was the first naval officer awarded the DFC for flying to the North Pole.

The law permitted awards only for aerial events after 1917, and it was limited to military personnel shortly after its inception.

But Congress passed legislation to honor Orville and Wilbur Wright in 1929 for the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., on Dec. 17, 1903.

Congress awarded the medal to Amelia Earhart, the first woman recipient, after her trans-Atlantic flight in 1932.

Other recipients include former President George H. W. Bush, Sen. John McCain, John Glenn, George McGovern, Jimmy Stewart and Joseph McCarthy.

Sources: The Distinguished Flying Cross Society, Wikipedia, www.ameliaearhart.com.

Army pilot's heroism follows persistence 06/07/08 [Last modified: Saturday, June 7, 2008 4:31am]
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