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PJs get Bronze Stars with 'V' for ambush rescues

Dec. 15, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
From left, Capt. Ronnie Maloney, Senior Master Sgt. Erik Blom, Tech. Sgt. Anthony Yusup, Staff Sgt. James Dougherty, Staff Sgt. Matthew Zimmer and Staff Sgt. Christopher Petersen.
From left, Capt. Ronnie Maloney, Senior Master Sgt. Erik Blom, Tech. Sgt. Anthony Yusup, Staff Sgt. James Dougherty, Staff Sgt. Matthew Zimmer and Staff Sgt. Christopher Petersen. (New York Air National Guard)
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Twenty-five soldiers — both American and Afghan — were going door to door Dec. 10, 2012, to clear an Afghan village of insurgent threats. Air Force pararescuemen at Kandahar Air Field watched via live video.

Then, the ambush hit.

“We saw an explosion. Immediately, the phone started ringing, and we got in the helicopters,” recalled Capt. Ronnie Maloney, a combat rescue officer then on his second deployment with the 103rd Rescue Squadron of the New York Air National Guard.

In 15 minutes on the ground, pararescuemen extracted four critically injured soldiers, both American and Afghan.

For their achievement, 10 airmen received medals, including six from the New York Air National Guard who were presented the Bronze Star for Valor on Dec. 6. The troops in the mission also were recognized with the Jolly Green Association’s 2012 Rescue of the Year award.

The PJs arrived at the ambush scene in their two-ship HH-60G formation, call signs Pedro 61 and 62. Pedro 62 landed first and got to work, offloading Tech. Sgt. Anthony Yusup, Staff Sgt. James Dougherty and Staff Sgt. Christopher Peterson.

The platoon provided suppressive fire, and the Pave Hawks and OH-58 Kiowas provided air support, as the PJs linked up with the soldiers, who were sheltering behind a mud wall.

Yusup remained in the open to control the casualty collection point. Dougherty and Peterson ignored the bullets flying around them to treat the soldiers. Rocket-propelled grenades hit nearby, and the two airmen covered the soldiers with their own bodies.

Pedro 61 touched down with Maloney, Senior Master Sgt. Erik Blom and Staff Sgt. Matthew Zimmer.

“We heard it was a hot landing zone,” Maloney said. “We decided, once we landed, to release the helicopters off station. It was heavy enemy fire.”

The Pedro 61 crew ran across open ground to help treat and move the casualties. Zimmer treated three patients with gunshot and shrapnel wounds, and stabilized a gravely wounded American soldier who had lost his legs and an arm. Blom, the noncommissioned officer in charge, took charge of the process, and Maloney controlled air support, accurately directing the HH-60’s .50-caliber and rocket fire on the enemy.

Once the fire subsided, the crew was able to load the four soldiers and take them back to Kandahar. The gravely wounded soldier, Staff Sgt. Wesley Williams of New Carlisle, Ohio, died at the hospital while the others were treated.

“I’m extremely proud of these men,” 103rd Rescue Squadron commander Lt. Col. Shawn Fitzgerald said in announcing the Bronze Stars for the PJs. “Their actions validate the hard work they come in and do, day in and day out.”

Maloney said he is honored and humbled by the medal, but as his unit says,a lot of troops go out there and do more but receive less recognition.

“None of us out there do any of it for a medal,” Maloney said. “It’s the last thing you think of while you do a tracheotomy on a patient.

“We all love to do our job,” Maloney added. “We don’t do it for the money or the medals.”

In addition to the New York guardsmen, the two pilots and two flight engineers on Pedro 61 and 62 were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with ‘V’ this year. The pilots, Capt. Brian Dicks and Capt. Charles Napier, and flight engineers Master Sgt. William Fritsch and Staff Sgt. Joshua Reid, are assigned to the 55th Rescue Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

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