On May 20, 2023, during airborne training in Waynesville, Ohio, (non-GSDF-related training), a Laotian Airborne Soldier had a malfunction with his parachute and was blown three miles off course. Rescue efforts by the civilian employees of the drop zone failed to locate the Soldier. Following three hours of searching, nightfall rolled in and a dangerous thunderstorm loomed ahead.
Relying upon various GSDF-honed skills, 1st Lt. Travis Bryan, Master Sgt. Drew Kearns, and Pvt. Joseph Legg initiated a separate search for the Soldier. They obtained two-way radios, enlisted two Laotian Soldiers as interpreters, jumped in two cars, and headed out into the night. Within an hour, they found the missing Soldier, who had been hanging 15 feet up in a tree, beyond a densely thick hedge row,
After several attempts to break through the hedge row, the GSDF Soldiers finally reached the Laotian paratrooper, using an interpreter to assess him for injuries. They then extricated him from the tree and reunited him with his comrades. He had been in the tree for approximately four hours, awaiting rescue.
The Laotian Award of Merit is the fourth highest award given by Laos and is awarded for “Setting oneself apart from form his/her comrades by outstanding non-combat meritorious achievement or service.”
Maj. Gen. Buford Compton of the Royal Lao Airborne pinned the three Soldiers, Ashburn, Ga., August 5, 2023.
Story by Master Sgt. Drew Kearns
Photos by Pvt. Christina Turner