A Canadian helicopter pilot who flies with the Royal Air Force in Britain was honouredbyQueenElizabeth on Wednesday for braveryand courageduringhis missionin Afghanistan.
Flight Lieut. Chris Hasler was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross at Buckingham Palace in London. He is the first Canadian to win the medal since the Korean War.
Hasler, 26, born in Jasper, Alta., but raised in Halifax, tried to enlist in the Canadian air force shortly after he graduated from high school but was turned down. He said he thinks he was considered too young at the time.
After studying at Mount Allison University inNew Brunswickfor two years, he applied to the Royal Air Force as a Commonwealth citizen, was accepted, and flies Chinook helicopters, the workhorse of the RAF fleet.
"I always wanted to fly. I was quite lucky," Hasler told CBC News. "It is quite exciting. Nothing compares. It's a sport of kings, really. It is quite fun."
Haslerreceived the medal for his work in two operationsin Afghanistan.In a news release, the British Defence Ministry saidhe displayed"great courage and composure in a most demanding and high risk environment" while operating in Helmand province.
The firstoperation involved flying a Chinook helicopter intoa Talibanfirefight to pick up wounded British soldiers on July 7, 2006.
"It was a sitethat was surrounded by buildings on all three sides and we had to land with one of the front blades overlapping one of these one-storey buildings, on our back wheels with our front wheels in the air, so we wouldn't hit it,"Hasler said.
The pilot said he squeezed the aircraft between the buildings to reach the wounded. "I certainly didn't have time to think about it. I was concentrating somuch on not crashing, just landing."
But Hasler said it was not a one-person job.
"It's unfortunate the whole crew couldn't be recognized. Being the captain, you're always going to be the one in charge, and the one in the spotlight, unfortunately, but you know, it wouldn't have happened without the three other guys, and the rest of the team, the engineers."
The second operation involvedlanding his aircraft while underattack from small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire on July 14, 2006, allowing troops to disembark and reinforce other ground troops already under threat from Taliban forces.
Hasler said he knows that the job involves risks, but he tries not to dwell on them.
'Somewhat based on luck'
"You really don't have time to think about it. You make a plan, you pick your spot, and you go for it, and you hope it's the right choice. It's somewhat based on luck," he said.
Group Capt. Sean Reynolds,a RAF base commander, said the medal is well-deserved.
"Not only is it a very brave act, it requires a very high degree of flying skill. He was flying the aircraft at the time. They were very close to some obstructions, buildings and some trees, and technically, broke the rules," he said.
Reynolds said the RAF is proud that Hasler is being honoured. "We have to hang on to talent like that," he said.
He saidthe medal is givenonly in special circumstances."We don't hand them out very readily, and if you've got one, you can wear it with a lot of pride," he said.
Hasler was one of five British Royal Marines, army and RAF personnel honoured Wednesday for "gallantry" in Afghanistan during 2006.