Special Tactics Airmen receive 19 decorations for combat operations|
Posted 4/28/2010 Updated 4/28/2010
by 2nd Lt. Cammie Quinn
43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
4/28/2010 - POPE AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- Nineteen medals were presented to nine Airmen assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, 17th Air Support Operations Squadron and 10th Combat Weather Squadron during a April 23 ceremony here.
Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, presented The Silver Star, four Bronze Stars Medals with Valor, four Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts and seven Air Force Combat Action Medals to special tactics Airmen for actions during their deployments.
During their deployments, Airmen from the 21st STS, here, along with Airmen from the 720th Special Tactics Group, participated in more than 1,700 combat operations leading to the capture or elimination of more than 1,900 enemy insurgents.
The Silver Star, the nation's third highest decoration for valor, was presented to Staff Sgt. Caleb Heidelberg for his actions during a firefight against enemy forces in Afghanistan in summer 2008.
In support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Sergeant Heidelberg, along with members of the Army Special Forces and the Afghanistan National Security Forces team, conducted a mounted combat reconnaissance patrol. As members of the patrol dismounted to clear a vegetated area, they were ambushed within 10 meters by enemy insurgent forces employing heavy and effective small-arms and mortar fire, injuring all of the dismounted team.
Sergeant Heidelberg became cognizant of the grave danger faced by his teammates, and exposed himself to extensive enemy fire while repositioning his vehicle to provide cover for his wounded comrades. With continued disregard for his own safety, he then stationed himself forward of the vehicle and suppressed the enemy with his squad automatic weapon, allowing his vehicle's gunner to climb to the mounted turret, clear the jammed automatic grenade launcher and put fire on the enemy.
Sergeant Heidelberg realized members of his patrol were wounded, still exposed and in mortal danger. Without hesitation, he moved from the cover and protective fire of his position and ran toward them. Exposing himself again to heavy enemy fire, Sergeant Heidelberg carried a seriously wounded Afghan soldier back to the protection of the vehicle.
As the fight continued, he directed a complex air-ground battle to destroy the enemy with AH-64 strafing attacks and bombs dropped from B-1 and F-15 aircraft. Additionally, he simultaneously directed four helicopter sorties to both evacuate the wounded and replenish a critically low supply of ammunition.
"Caleb's actions were extraordinary and heroic, and absolutely deserving of the Silver Star," said Lt. Col. James Hughes, 21st Special Tactics Squadron commander. "Yet his conduct was not entirely uncharacteristic for a Combat Controller and Special Tactics operator. As you hear about the details of their achievements, there are common characteristics that begin to emerge."
"Today, we are also recognizing three Purple Heart recipients in conjunction with their combat decorations," said Colonel Hughes. "It is not the severity of the injuries that is notable, it's the speed and determination of their recovery. To a man, they were planning and preparing for their return to combat even before their first round of surgeries was complete. They are an inspiration to us all and each will stand before you today, well on his way to a full recovery."
Following Sergeant Heidelberg's Silver Star presentation, 18 other medals were presented.
The other recipients are:
Staff Sgt. Joseph Byrne, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor, Purple Heart and Air Force Combat Action Medal.
Sergeant Byrne earned the medals during his deployment in Afghanistan spring of 2009 where during a period of about one month, his actions led to over 100 enemies killed, two wounded and 11 insurgents captured. During a battle where the enemy tried and failed three times to overrun Sergeant Byrne's position, he was shot in the neck and shoulder area.
Staff Sgt. Robert Gutierrez, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor, Purple Heart and Air Force Combat Action Medal.
Sergeant Gutierrez earned the medals for two separate deployments to Afghanistan. His Bronze Star Medal was awarded for his actions under intense enemy fire in Afghanistan winter 2008. His Purple Heart was awarded for injuries sustained in late 2009.
Tech. Sgt. Scott Trimble, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor, first oak leaf cluster, and Air Force Combat Action Medal.
During Sergeant Trimble's deployment to Iraq winter-summer of 2008, he directed more than 80 direct-action missions in Iraq. During a mission, Sergeant Trimble was engaged by the enemy from 30 meters away. Reacting quickly, Sergeant Trimble returned fire, killing one and injuring another.
Staff Sgt. Justin Ray, 10th Combat Weather Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor.
While deployed to Southern Afghanistan, Sergeant Ray executed over 70 combat reconnaissance and direct-action missions involving 16 troops-in-contact situations. The missions resulted in 74 enemy killed, 26 enemy wounded, and six high value targets captured. While carrying out his tactical duties as a Special Forces team member, Sergeant Ray completed 176 forward weather observations.
Staff Sgt, Marc Esposito, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and a Purple Heart.
During Sergeant Esposito's deployment to Afghanistan during spring 2009, he conducted 12 combat reconnaissance patrols, fought Taliban forces during four troops-in-contact engagements, coordinating and synchronizing airpower in support of the team's maneuver. Throughout the engagement, he fired at enemy forces with an M-240B machine gun while simultaneously controlling aircraft in support of his team.
Staff Sgt, Jonathan Jones, 10th Combat Weather Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
During Sergeant Jones' deployment to Afghanistan spring-fall 2009, he participated in 55 outside the wire combat operations and 41 troops-in-contact situations. Sergeant Jones took and disseminated 104 tactical weather observations and accomplished 10 environmental assessments of local terrain and rivers.
Staff Sgt. Robert Laraia, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and an Air Force Combat Action Medal.
During Sergeant Laraia's deployment to Afghanistan he conducted 15 combat reconnaissance patrols, key leadership engagements and humanitarian assistance missions in a remote and volatile region. During one convoy, his team came under direct and accurate rocket propelled grenade, heavy machine gun, and small-arms fire which impacted his vehicle. Sergeant Laraia immediately returned fire while simultaneously coordinating close-air support. Despite the grave danger from rounds impacting his vehicle, he continued to engage the enemy until close air support arrived and then controlled four GBU-38 bombs from a B-1 bomber causing the enemy to disengage and flee the area.
Tech. Sgt. Eric Muller, 17th Air Support Operations Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, first oak leaf cluster, and an Air Force Combat Action Medal.
During Sergeant Muller's deployment to Afghanistan during the last half of 2007, he and his joint team came under direct small arms and mortar fire while manning a checkpoint.
Sergeant Muller quickly radioed for close-air support and took a defensive position on the perimeter to return fire. After the 12-hour battle was over, sources reported 26 enemies killed including a Taliban commander with no friendly soldiers killed.