Despite imminent risk of fire or explosion, Marine Capt. Trey Kennedy raced through flying debris to help rescue four victims of a NATO helicopter crash in Afghanistan a year ago, an act that has earned him the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for Heroism, the highest non-combat decoration awarded for heroism by the two branches of military service.
Kennedy, a Clemson and Wren High School graduate, will be honored in a ceremony before Clemson’s rivalry game with South Carolina on Saturday and presented with the medal on the field during the game, according to the Marines.
The citation describes how Kennedy risked his life to save four others in the helicopter crash in Kabul on Oct. 11, 2015.
“Standing in several inches of jet fuel, Capt. Kennedy was able to reach through the window to remove a passenger’s seatbelt, then moved back inside to pull him out the passenger door,” it says. “He freed another passenger and handed her out of the helicopter, then discovered at least one more responsive passenger trapped in the wreckage.
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“Recognizing it would be impossible to remove him, Capt. Kennedy went to the back of the aircraft and began cutting through the skin with a firefighting tool,” the citation says.
After firefighters arrived, he stayed to make sure their power lines didn’t come in contact with the fuel covering the area.
He then helped remove three other passengers before receiving medical attention himself.
“Capt. Kennedy’s bold leadership, wise judgment, and selfless dedication to duty reflected great credit upon him and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”
Kennedy downplayed the heroism in a conversation with The Greenville News.
“That's what Marines do,” he said. “No biggie.”
It was a pretty big deal to Col. Laurel "Buff" Burkel, one of the passengers in the helicopter who Kennedy rescued.
She doesn't remember anything about what happened, other than that the helicopter struck a wire as it was making a landing in a short flight from Kabul International Airport to NATO headquarters in Afghanistan, where the British MK-2 Puma helicopter went down.
Five of the nine passengers -- all of the ones on the righthand side of the craft -- were killed. Burkel broke her neck but has made a complete recovery, she said.
She was able to meet Kennedy while she was recovering in Germany and he was on his way home from deployment.
“It was pretty powerful to meet the person who saved your life," she said.
She said he told her she would have done the same for him.
“We like to think we would take care of each other," she said.
He was able to fill in some of the gaps in her memory of what happened, she said.
“I’m really glad to hear that Trey is being recognized,” she said. “If it wasn’t a holiday weekend I would certainly have tried to come out.”
Where and when
Marine Capt. Trey Kennedy will be honored in a 5 p.m. ceremony at the Clemson University Scroll of Honor, across the hill outside Memorial Stadium.
During a time out in the first quarter, the 2008 Clemson grad will be presented his medal, according to the Marines.