Pilots honored as heroes at Whiteman Air Force Base

KNOB NOSTER, Mo. - Soldiers from Kentucky traveled to Whiteman Air Force Base in central Missouri to thank the airmen who saved their lives four years ago in Afghanistan.

Mauricio Alejandro Arias is a member of the Kentucky Army Guard. Arias is a gunner and his battalion came under enemy fire in June 2008 in Afghanistan. The vehicles were disabled and several soldiers were injured. They were outgunned.

"One thing I know; If these guys had not showed up in the next two, three minutes -- at most seven minutes-- we'd die," Arias said. "At this time, we're fighting and fighting and we're running out of ammo. We were about to just take the hill at our sides because vehicles were down and there was nothing else to do because the enemy was still fighting at us."

The fight changed course when Air Force Pilot Lt. Colonel Tony Roe and his wingman Colonel James Mackey flew overhead. Roe and Mackey were doing routine checks when they were alerted to the fire fight.

"They were stuck taking fire from both sides of the road they were on," Roe said. "We found the targets via some red smoke from a smoke grenade that these guys put up on a hill."

Roe and Mackey were able to return fire against the enemy and give Arias and 16 other soldiers time to get out of the kill zone.

Arias, now engaged with two children, credits Roe and Mackey for saving his life. On Saturday afternoon, Arias presented both pilots with an American flag and plaques to show his gratitude.

"Now I have a family because of this guy," Arias said. "I have a daughter that I am going to take to her graduation because of this guy. I have a son because of this guy. Now I get to go tell him thank you."

In all, 17 soldiers were rescued that day. Many of the soldiers are still suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of the ordeal. Both pilots hope this meeting brings a sense of closure to their fellow servicemen.

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