2016 Airman of the Year
Staff Sgt. Clifford Crawford
For Staff Sgt. Clifford “Dylan” Crawford, the massive earthquake and aftershocks that struck Nepal last year resulted in what he describes as “the pararescue mission of the century.”
Crawford, a pararescueman, was in the middle of training exercises in the Philippines when the first 7.8-magnitude quake struck near Nepal’s Ghorka district on April 25, 2015. He said he was one of five airmen who immediately volunteered to go help. As the airmen were driving to the airfield to board two Ospreys, they got word that another major aftershock had hit.
They flew throughout Nepal, looking for signs of people who needed help, Crawford said. As they went into each village, or helped dig wounded Nepalese out of the rubble and examined the wounded who had been taken to a collection point. He then helped get them back to the helicopter and transport them to a hospital in Kathmandu for treatment. Crawford said he flew seven or eight trips to save people that first day.
In the days that followed, people would swarm Crawford’s helicopter as soon as it landed, looking for medical assistance. He triaged the wounded and decided which critical patients were most in need of immediate evacuation.
“I had patients all the way from very, very young, almost newborn, to extremely elderly,” Crawford said.
During the three weeks there, he helped save the lives of 44 Nepalese.
“To be that one guy on the ground, to go out and do mass casualties in the villages and help as many people as I could and get them to the best medical care that I possibly could, and also give them the treatment that they needed on the ground and in the helicopter, it was pretty incredible for me,” Crawford said.
Another tragedy struck May 12, 2015, when a helicopter carrying six Marines, two Nepalese soldiers and five injured civilians crashed on a steep mountainside in Nepal. Crawford, three other PJs, one combat rescue officer, and about 12 Nepalese rangers were sent to recover their bodies. Crawford said they searched for three days – all while continuing to medevac wounded quake victims – before finding the helicopter, and then stayed at the crash site for four days.
Conditions were harrowing. It was cold, foggy and rainy 12,000 feet up the mountain, Crawford said. Aftershocks kept coming, causing landslides while they tried to stabilize the crash site and get the remains out of a ravine, as well as recover sensitive items from the crash site. They also had to be constantly vigilant because of snow leopards in the area.
“We had to pull them out of the helicopter while also trying not to fall off the cliff,” Crawford said, who later helped guide the ramp ceremony for the fallen.
Crawford, who is stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, volunteers with Special Olympics, helping to build and tear down the facilities, and serving as an athlete buddy, assistant coach and cheerleader..
Crawford has volunteers at the emergency room of U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, he said, which helps keep his medical skills sharp. He also does landscaping and organizes performances at a home for elderly Japanese citizens on Okinawa.