Wounded Warrior is honored in Great Balloon Race

dwa

110429-A-FE521-052

Wounded Warrior and Kentucky Army National Guardsman Sgt. Casey Cooper looks into the rising sun as he takes flight in the National Guard's hot air balloon as part of the Kentucky Derby Festival's US Bank Great Balloon Race, April 29. Sgt. Cooper, a member of the 223rd Military Police Company in Louisville, Ky., was wounded in the Raven 42 ambush at Salman Pak, Iraq on March 20, 2005. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Aaron Hiler, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

Touch here for more photos on this story.

Louisville, Ky. (April 29, 2011) – The rising sun wasn’t the only splash of color gracing Louisville’s morning skies.  Dozens of hot air balloons leapt into the skies over Bowman Field as part of the 2011 Kentucky Derby Festival’s US Bank Great Balloon Race.  The National Guard’s hot air balloon, piloted by Bill Smith of Aero Force Balloons, was second to launch during the race and it carried a very special crewman – Wounded Warrior Sgt. Casey Cooper.

110429-A-FE521-029

Kentucky Army Guardsman and Wounded Warrior Sgt. Casey Cooper of the 223rd MP Company helps Bill Smith of Aero Force Balloons raise the National Guard balloon prior to the Kentucky derby Festival US Bank Great Balloon Race, April 29. Sgt. Cooper was wounded in the Raven 42 ambush in Salman Pak, Iraq on March 20, 2005. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Aaron Hiler, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

Sgt. Cooper, a member of the 223rd M.P. Company out of Louisville, was honored by the Kentucky Derby Festival and the National Guard balloon crew by being made an honorary crew member and was given a ride in the balloon during the Great Balloon Race.

Cooper waved to his five-year old son, Jayce, and his sister-in-law, Jessica Tanselle, as the National Guard balloon left the ground.

“I’ve never been up in a hot air balloon before, so I’ve been looking forward to this ride all week,” said Cooper.

Sgt. Cooper was chosen from a group of Wounded Warriors to join the National Guard balloon crew for this event.  Cooper was wounded in the Raven 42 ambush at Salman Pak, Iraq in March of 2005, when he and six other MPs were ambushed by insurgent forces while escorting a transportation company.   Sgt. Cooper received the Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device for Valor for his actions during the Raven 42 firefight.

“I love honoring our Wounded Warriors like this,” said hot air balloon pilot Bill Smith.  Smith, owner of Aero Force Balloons, travels around the nation representing the National Guard with his hot air balloon.

“In addition to honoring a real hero like Sgt. Cooper for his wartime sacrifices, I also get to fly the National Guard balloon and let communities around the nation know that their National Guard is always there when it is needed.”

###

About kentuckyguard