F.S. GABRESKI AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, WESTHAMPTON BEACH, N.Y. – The courage that six New York Air National Guardsmen showed under fire in Afghanistan was recognized with six Bronze Star for Valor awards during a Friday, Dec. 6 ceremony here.
Maj. Gen. Patrick Murphy, the adjutant general of New York, honored the six members of the 106th Rescue Wing's 103rd Rescue Squadron for heroism during a Dec. 10, 2012, rescue mission in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
The six men—Capt. Ronnie Maloney, of Middle Island; Senior Master Sgt. Erik Blom, of Hampton Bays; Technical Sgt. Anthony Yusup of Bloomsburg, Penn.; Staff Sgt. James Dougherty of Rocky Point; Staff Sgt. Matthew Zimmer of Westhampton; and Staff Sgt. Christopher Petersen of Commack, then a senior Airman—were assigned to the 46th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron Detachment of the 651st Air Expeditionary Group, a part of the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing, at Kandahar Air Field at the time.
F.S. GABRESKI AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, WESTHAMPTON BEACH, N.Y. – Six New York Air National Guardsmen who received the Bronze Star with V for Valor during a award ceremony on Dec. 6, 2013 here stand at attention with Maj. Gen. Patrick Murphy, the Adjutant General of New York, and Col. Thomas Owens, the commander of the 106th Rescue Wing. They are (from left) Capt. Ronnie Maloney, of Middle Island; Senior Master Sgt. Erik Blom, of Hampton Bays; Technical Sgt. Anthony Yusup of Bloomsburg, PA; Staff Sgt. James Dougherty of Rocky Point; Staff Sgt. Matthew Zimmer of Westhampton; and Staff Sgt. Christopher Petersen of Commack, then a senior Airman. All were assigned to the 46th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron Detachment of the 651st Air Expeditionary Group, a part of the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing, at Kandahar Air Field at the time. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Muncy)
The New York Air National Guard Airmen successfully treated and evacuated three American Soldiers and one Afghan who had all been critically injured when an improvised explosive device hit their unit, a platoon of the 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment.
The Combat Rescue Officer and five Pararescuemen, known collectively as Guardian Angels, flew into a “hot” LZ and were under Taliban fire continuously, from AK-47s, machineguns, and rocket propelled grenades, as they called in helicopter gunship support, and provided emergency medical care to the four men while shielding them with their own bodies.
Along with receiving the Bronze Star for Valor, their exploit was also honored as “The Rescue Mission of the Year” for 2012 by the Jolly Green Association, the professional association of serving and retired members of Air Force Rescue.
The Bronze Star with V device for valor is the fourth highest ranking Air Force award for heroism.
“I'm extremely proud of these men, “said Lt. Col. Shawn Fitzgerald, the commander of the 103rd Rescue Squadron.” Their actions validate the hard work they come in and do day-in and day-out.”
“Being a Combat Rescue Officer and PJ (pararescue jumper) is unique. We ask an incredible amount of both our full-time and traditional Guardsmen. This is a validation of everything they work so hard to achieve,” he added.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also praised the airmen.
“Today, we recognize the tremendous bravery of six New York Air National Guardsmen who put their lives on the line to protect the safety of others,” he said in a statement. “Our Guard members have served admirably both in wars abroad and during emergencies at home. The courage, clear thinking, and selfless dedication of these six Airmen is a testament to the incredible service of New York's Air National Guard. On behalf of all New Yorkers, I offer my congratulations to these brave men for this well-deserved honor.”
Blom and Yusup are traditional Guard airmen who serve part-time. Blom is a Suffolk County Police Officer, while Yusup is a college student studying nursing.
Maloney, Zimmer, Petersen, and Dougherty are full-time members of the 106th Rescue Wing.
Petersen was honored by the USO as National Guardsman of the Year during the organization's annual Gala on Oct. 25.
On Dec. 10, 2012 the six 103rd Rescue Squadron Airmen were the Guardian Angel team assigned to man two HH-60 Pavehawk rescue helicopters—call signs Pedro 61 and Pedro 62—flown by members of the 55th Rescue Squadron, an Active Air Force unit. A friendly platoon (about 25 Soldiers) had been ambushed and four Soldiers – including one of the Americans who later died—were very badly injured.
The friendly unit was still under Taliban fire as the two helicopters approached the scene. Pedro 62, the trail helicopter, moved into the area to put the three-man team of Yusup, Dougherty, and Petersen on the ground first.
As the helicopter moved in to off load the three airmen it came under machinegun fire which continued as the men moved to linkup with the American and Afghan infantrymen who were sheltering behind a mud wall. Two rocket propelled grenades hit the ground five meters away from the Air Guardsmen as they began to conduct triage on the wounded Soldiers.
Yusup, the leader of that three-man element, according to the official citation, elected to remain in the open while exposed to enemy fire so that he could control the casualty collection point and direct timely casualty treatment.
Dougherty and Peterson ignored the enemy fire and began immediate treatment to save the lives of the injured men. When rocket propelled grenades hit nearby they covered the wounded with their own bodies.
Meanwhile, the lead helicopter Pedro 61, landed to allow the other three Guardsmen: Maloney, the Combat Rescue Officer; Blom, the team noncommissioned officer in charge, and Zimmer.
All three men ran across open ground, despite the enemy fire, to help in treating and moving the casualties.
Zimmer treated three patients with gunshot and shrapnel wounds and also stabilized a gravely wounded American soldier who was missing his legs and an arm. Blom took charge of the casualty collection and treatment process while Maloney avoided an enemy rocket propelled grenade and called in support from the HH-60 Pavehawk helicopters and a pair of Army Kiowa Warrior OH-58 helicopter gunships which also came on station. He accurately directed the 50 caliber machine gun fire and rocket fire on the enemy.
When the helicopter machine gun and rocket fire suppressed the enemy, Blom passed along the plans for extraction and got the team ready to move. Blom distributed his extra ammunition to the ground troops while he and Maloney both took their places in the firing line to suppress the enemy while the other four Air Guardsmen helped the infantrymen move the wounded to the waiting HH-60 helicopter.
Zimmer noted that one of litter teams was having trouble moving over the rough terrain and ran back to help them, risking his own life to go into the open once more.
All four wounded soldiers were evacuated back to the combat surgical hospital at Kandahar Airfield. Unfortunately the triple amputee – Staff Sgt. Wesley R. Williams, 25, of New Carlisle, Ohio, died upon arriving there.
By USAF Senior Airman Christopher Muncy
Provided through DVIDS
Comment on this article