Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James spent her final day in
office honoring an Airman on January 19, 2017.
packed auditorium of base leadership, River Region community leaders
and Air University students, James presented two Silver Star medals
to Col. Christopher Barnett for his actions in Afghanistan in 2009
on two separate occasions.
January 19, 2017 - Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James presents Col. Christopher C. Barnett, an Air War College faculty member, the Silver Star and the Silver Star first oak leaf cluster. James chose her last day as the secretary of the Air Force to honor Barnett for his gallantry in connection with 2009 military operations, as well as to announce upgraded medals awarded to seven additional Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo
by Melanie Rodgers Cox)
Barnett, now an Air War College instructor of leadership
and warfighting, was one of eight Airmen who received medal
upgrades following the directed review of medal submissions
by the secretary of defense in early 2016.
Approximately 150 medals awarded from recent conflicts in
Iraq and Afghanistan were reviewed and considered for an
upgrade. Nine medals to eight Airmen were determined to not
suitably reflect their actions and have been upgraded.
In Barnett’s case, the two Distinguished Flying Cross
medals he earned in 2009 were upgraded to two Silver Stars.
“These stories quite simply blow me away, and they are
inspiring when you think of the resiliency of our people,
how they keep going against all odds and how they are so
mission driven and particularly in the case of the Airman we
honored today, Christopher Barnett,” James said following
the medal presentation ceremony. “He was all about saving
lives, and that’s the story of many of our Airmen who are
recognized for valor. It’s about the team, it’s about
completing the mission, and it’s about saving lives.”
According to the citations that accompanied his medal
presentations, on April 4, 2009, Barnett, an HH-60G Pave
Hawk search and rescue helicopter pilot, engaged with the
enemy on four different occasions near Kajaki, Afghanistan,
saving the lives of 40 U.S. Special Forces Soldiers and one
Afghan National Army soldier.
Six weeks later,
Barnett was called to action once more.
On May 19,
2009, he and his wingman braved intense enemy fire to rescue
a wounded Soldier. Just a few hours later they were called
out again to the same location to rescue another Soldier and
deliver much-needed water and ammo to ground troops. When at
the site, Barnett positioned his aircraft between the
Soldiers and the enemy fire. The next day, he was called out
to the same site to evacuate another fallen Soldier.
“The thing I most remember about it is the relief at the end
of it knowing that all the guys that had gone in there were
going to get to go home,” he said.
For Barnett, the
medal presentation was a complete surprise, learning of the
surprise visit from James only two days earlier.
Barnett said he was honored beyond belief that the secretary
of the Air Force would spend her final day in office to come
from Washington, D.C., to present the decorations in person.
“It’s great that she’s making sure that this gets done
for some people who have had their review done on the
decorations, because I think it’s important, and I think it
shows a lot about her character; she’s looking at making
sure these things get done,” he said.
the names and highlighting the individual accomplishments of
the first seven Airmen on her list who were getting medal
upgrades, James referred to them as the “magnificent seven.”
However, she said today was all about honoring the eighth
Airman on her list, Barnett.
“These stories represent
one percent; the military represents one percent of the
American public. So one percent of the people protect the
rest of us who are the 99 percent,” James said. “So we owe
them a great deal. It’s very important that we tell these
stories. It’s important that we thank them and that we thank
their families, because there is an enormous sacrifice
involved, and so it means everything to me that I get to do
this on my final day.”
By U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Alexa Culbert
Air Force News Service
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