Soldier Honored: James W. Ponder III
Hometown: Franklin, Tennessee
Branch of Service: Army
Rank: Master Sergeant
Assigned to Headquarters Company, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Master Sergeant James Ponder was known as a no nonsense kind of soldier when in the field. Those who served with him knew Ponder was a capable and experienced pilot, and when the chips were down he was just the guy you wanted on your team. Called “Trey” by family and friends because he was the third to carry his family name, Ponder attended Auburn University before enlisting in the Army in 1990 and joining a Special Forces unit to pilot Chinook helicopters.
Known as Night Stalkers, the 160th is an elite squadron intended to transport Special Forces units around the globe by night in specially modified helicopters. On loan for a short-term deployment to the 160th out of Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia, Ponder was to assist with ferrying personnel to be inserted into al-Qaida held territory. On the evening of June 28, 2005, seven soldiers attached to Ponder’s company along with an eight-man Navy SEAL team were being flown to a forward operating base in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan when the Chinook was struck with several enemy launched rocket-propelled grenades. The chopper crashed, killing all sixteen on board. Ponder, a Franklin, Tennessee native, was awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and the Air Medal for Valor.
MSG Ponder’s daughter is a Folds of Honor scholarship recipient.