FROM CAP TO THE AIR FORCE
A Hero Emerges
By Kristi Carr
angling 50 feet above the Afghan terrain,
U.S. Air Force pararescueman Staff Sgt.
Thomas Culpepper was in the process of
hoisting a second Army Pathfinder into the
hovering HH-60G Pave Hawk. The first soldier he had
brought up was critically wounded. Suddenly, the aircraft
lost its lift the result of a combination of heat, weight
and altitude. The pilot called for a meaning to
cut the cable and drop the men back to earth.
But that could set off improvised explosive devices on
the ground, where another soldier waited to be rescued.
Instead, the flight engineer quickly completed the hoist
as the helicopter dropped to within feet of the ground.
The pilot turned the aircraft to a place where the helicopter could recover its lift, while a wingman went in to
extract the third man. This is the stuff of medals for valor.
Culpepper credits his upbringing for instilling in him
the importance of service to others. His father, in particular, grew up with hard, traditional values, he said. As
Culpepper explained, motto was you can
help someone, do
As a youngster, Culpepper took up Scouting as a path to
service, but eventually he wanted more.
when he discovered Civil Air Patrol and joined
the Florida Seminole Composite Squadron as a
cadet. was motivated by search and rescue work,
and I was also interested in
A year later, when his family moved to Virginia,
Culpepper took CAP with him, transferring to CAP
squadrons there and finishing his cadet career by serving
as cadet commander for the National Capital
Mount Vernon Composite Squadron.
Two influences impacted his life while he was a cadet in
Virginia. One was his participation in a CAP summer special activity for pararescue orientation; the other was Lt.
Col. Peter K. Bowden, his commanding officer.
lit fires under all of Culpepper recalled.
his leadership, we learned to operate beyond our years
when it came to professionalism. He was always there when
we needed him, and he always had the right
CAP pararescue course I took as a cadet sealed the deal for me. And if it for
CAP, I have even thought of a military career. Now thinking going to ride
this one U.S. Air Force pararescueman Staff Sgt. Thomas Culpepper