On Sept. 24, former Whitmire resident Lt. Cmdr. William Strickland, US Coast Guard, was given the Coast Guard Exceptional Pilot Award for 2010. The award was presented to Strickland by Rear Adm. David Callahan at the Order of the Daedalion’s annual convention held in Dallas, Texas.
Coast Guard officials selected Strickland for this honor due his heroic actions after the earthquake that devastated Haiti in Jan.f 2010. Strickland was the assigned Mission Commander for Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) Aviation Detachment 10-05 assigned to US Coast Guard Cutter TAHOMA at the time of the disaster. The cutter and crew were at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when word of the event spread. Repositioning to Port Au Prince harbor, Strickland and his team operated non-stop for the next nine days; battling poor weather, unfamiliar mountainous terrain and a decimated nighttime urban disaster area strewn with unlit towers and power lines. Ignoring the immense personal risk and danger, LCDR Strickland and his crew were credited with saving 27 lives by MEDEVAC and saving or assisting hundreds more through the delivery of much-needed water, medical personnel and supplies.
In addition to the Haiti relief efforts, Strickland was also responsible for the interdiction of a “Go Fast” narcotics smuggling vessel during the same patrol.
On Jan. 24, Cutter TAHOMA located a suspect vessel in international waters approximately 35 nautical miles East of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. Strickland immediately launched and was able to quickly locate the vessel. After a 30 minute chase, Strickland was able to successfully order the employment of 10 rounds of .50 cal disabling fire from his MH-65C Dolphin helicopter, stopping the vessel. The interdiction resulted in the arrest of four narcotics smugglers and the seizure of more than 3,600 pounds of cocaine with an estimated street value of $28 million.
Strickland was also presented with the prestigious Masters Medal from the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators (GAPAN) at a ceremony held at Guildhall in London, England, Thursday, Oct. 27. The Masters Medal is awarded for outstanding courage or devotion to duty in the air. In the 80-year history of GAPAN, this is the first time that this award has been given to a US Coast Guard pilot.
Strickland has more than 19 years of active duty service with the Coast Guard in addition to three years as a member of the South Carolina Air Guard. He is a 1989 graduate of Whitmire High School and the son of Jerry Strickland of Whitmire and the late Brenda Ellison. He is married to the former Whitney Wardlaw of Simpsonville. They have two sons, John and Connor. He is the brother of Jeff and Jaime Strickland of Union, Ben and Heather Nelson and Cory Sapp of Whitmire. The Stricklands currently reside near Savannah, GA where Strickland is the Assistant Operations Officer and unit instructor pilot for Coast Guard Air Station Savannah. Air Station Savannah is a core unit for Search and Rescue on the Eastern seaboard and serves the National Capital Region (Washington DC) providing rotary air interdiction (RWAI) support fort non-compliant aircraft.