While the critically
injured soldier CulAfter attending George
pepper first hoisted
Mason University, during
into the helicopter
which time he continued
succumbed to his
in CAP as a senior member,
wounds, the rescuers
and working in the comcould take some computer field, Culpepper evenfort in knowing they
tually admitted to himself
had done all they
that pararescue was what
could. And the other
he really wanted to do.
two soldiers were delivHe joined the Air Force
Wearing the maroon beret of a U.S. Air Force pararescueman and the
ered from a very danin 2004.
Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor, Staff Sgt. Thomas Culpepper
But he still had a long
shares a salute with Air Force Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, U.S. Special
way to go. in the Operations Command vice commander, on the day of the medal
and mission taskings,
back of my he said, ceremony. Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin Gray
we are the ones who
the question of
can reach people who
whether I could do parawould otherwise not be Culpepper said.
rescue work, given that 80-90 percent of those who try
them a second chance at life is the greatest thing you can
out He quelled his fears, however, and applied for
the pararescue indoctrination course, which he described
Now with a decade of service in the Air Force,
as a 12-week tryout with no guarantees.
Culpepper is currently assigned as a dive instructor with
And, in fact, it was not a sure shot for him. He went
the 342nd Training Squadron Detachment Air Force
through the tryout three separate times.
Combat Dive Course at the Naval Diving and Salvage
my initial failures, they saw something in me
Center in Panama City, Fla., but he looks forward to
and I kept getting invited back. It took a little bit of
returning to pararescue work.
pain, but, in the end, I made he said.
CAP pararescue course I took as a cadet sealed
What followed was a year and a half at some very
the deal for me. And if it for CAP, I
tough military schools. By the time he was dangling
have even thought of a military he said.
above Afghanistan in 2011 to rescue those trapped Army
thinking going to ride this one
soldiers, he was the leader of his pararescue team, part of
The day he received his medal for valor, Culpepper
the 58th Rescue Squadron out of Nellis Air Force Base,
wrote to Bowden: I got this medal today and wanted
Nev., and on his first deployment to Afghanistan.
to say thank you. Believe it or not, those CAP ground
team values you taught still hold true with me and led to
an event like
In March, Culpepper was awarded the Air
Bowden said, have been in CAP for 27 years and
Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor for his actions
have gotten a few of these types of correspondence from
that day. The Air Force is the only U.S. military branch
former cadets. It never gets old! I am proud of the cadets
that awards this medal for heroism for actions taken
who have gone on to accomplish amazing things and conwhile participating in aerial flight.
tinue to contribute to this great
just got he said modestly.
38 Civil Air Patrol Volunteer