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Two airmen awarded Silver Stars for heroics in Afghanistan

Jan. 27, 2014 - 07:05PM   |  
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Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, Air Force Special Operations Command commander, awards the Silver Star to Master Sgt. Delorean Sheridan. (Marvin Krause/Air Force)
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Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, Air Force Special Operations Command commander, awards the Silver Star to Staff Sgt. Christopher Baradat. (Marvin Krause/Air Force)
Master Sgt. Delorean Sheridan smiles at his daughter, Kinsley, while Staff Sgt. Christopher Baradat looks on. (Marvin Krause/Air Force)

Master Sgt. Delorean Sheridan still can’t remember the sound of the machine gun fire that killed his comrades.

But he remembers how the smoke rose with each new round, and he remembers the thought that played over and over in his head until the insurgent lay dead: I have to kill the shooter before he kills all of us.

Sheridan was in Afghanistan’s Wardak Province preparing for a mission with Army Special Forces and Afghan security forces last March when an Afghan national police officer turned his gun on the team. Within moments, some 20 insurgents from outside the base began firing on U.S. forces and their Afghan counterparts in a coordinated, insider attack.

Sheridan reacted instantly. He leaped into the turret of an armored vehicle and shot the turncoat 11 times before turning his attention to his wounded teammates. Sheridan darted into the firefight three times to pull his comrades to safety. The combat controller called in six medevac flights and still managed to direct close air support overhead, which resulted in the deaths of four more enemies.

The heroic actions earned Sheridan a Silver Star, the military’s third-highest honor for gallantry in combat.

He received the decoration in a Jan. 10 ceremony at Pope Army Airfield, N.C., where he is assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron.

Also accepting a Silver Star that day was fellow Pope combat controller Staff Sgt. Christopher Baradat, credited with saving the lives of 150 friendly forces when he left the safety of his compound and stepped into the middle of a firefight during a mission in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, last April.

Sheridan and Baradat mark the special tactics community’s 27th and 28th Silver Stars since the end of the Vietnam War, the Air Force said.

Baradat was deployed at press time and unavailable for an interview with Air Force Times.

“What Chris Baradat did was outstanding. He’s a warrior,” Sheridan said in a Jan. 21 interview.

As for his own Silver Star, Sheridan said, a cup of coffee and a thank you would have been plenty. He considers himself an average combat controller and credits his training with how he reacted that day.

“I can’t even begin to talk about how rigorous the training is. It’s that way intentionally,” Sheridan said. “I would expect anyone else who was in my shoes to do what I did if not better.”

Sheridan: Ambushed

Sheridan almost joined the Army. He decided on a military career while he was still in high school — a family tradition that goes all the way back to his paternal great-grandfather, he said. His dad retired from the Coast Guard, his grandfather from the Army, and the family moved every few years while Sheridan was growing up.

His family didn’t necessarily expect him to join the military, he said.

“I just got to a point in my life where I just wanted to go out and be an adult and have adventures and see the world,” he said.

At first, Sheridan thought he wanted to become an Army Ranger.

Then a high school friend shared his plans for becoming a special tactics airman.

“I went to his [Air Force] recruiter, and because of his presence and attitude, I decided this sounds like an even better deal,” Sheridan recalled. He joined after high school graduation in 1999.

Sheridan was a month into his sixth deployment when the Afghan turncoat opened fire as U.S. and Afghan forces prepared for a mission in Wardak Province on March 11, 2013. Two soldiers died in the attack: Capt. Andrew Pedersen-Keel, 28, and Staff Sgt. Rex Schad, 26.

“I had engaged the enemy and been engaged by the enemy, but nothing this close,” Sheridan said. “I’d never been in an ambush before.”

A few days later, his team got together to discuss recommendations for awards, he said. The acting team leader said he was going to recommend Sheridan for the Silver Star.

His actions had helped save the lives of 23 critically wounded service members.

“I was obviously shocked,” Sheridan said. “I didn’t expect it to go anywhere. I did that day what everybody else did that day. They fought.”

Baradat: Under fire

A few weeks later, on April 6, Sheridan was listening to his radio as Staff Sgt. Chris Baradat directed aircraft during a mission to retrieve a group of coalition forces pinned down by enemy fire in Kunar Province’s Sono Valley.

The valley, according to Baradat’s citation, is “a known sanctuary for Taliban and Al Qaeda militants.”

The team came under fire as they moved their way through the narrow valley on foot. Baradat “charged through a hail of enemy gunfire” to direct the 33mm guns of the A-10s overhead before taking taking cover in a small compound, the citation said.

But he didn’t think he could effectively control the aircraft from there.

Ignoring his teammates’ shouts for him to take cover, Baradat stepped into direct enemy fire at the center of the compound.

For the next three hours, while being sprayed with dirt from the impact of machine-gun fire, Baradat directed A-10s and AC-130s onto 13 enemy positions.

“That was where I needed to be standing to communicate with the aircraft and to get the mission done,” Baradat said in an Air Force news release.

He exposed himself again to enemy fire when he jumped onto the running board of his vehicle to maintain communications.

“Sergeant Baradat’s heroic and selfless actions directly resulted in over 50 enemy fighters killed, while saving the lives of over 150 friendly personnel,” according to the citation.

Honors

Sheridan and Baradat’s families and teammates came out to the ceremony, presided over by Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, commander of the Air Force Special Operations Command.

Sheridan’s tenacious 2-year-old daughter, Kinsley, made her way up on stage uninvited, taking a seat next to her dad.

He was glad to have the spotlight off him for a moment, and Fiel didn’t mind.

“My family is very proud. My dad is pretty ecstatic,” Sheridan said. “I was excited about Chris Baradat. That’s the God’s honest truth.”

He was also happy to see his teammates.

“The last time I saw most of them, they were in the hospital. I got to see them and shake their hands and see they’re doing well. That was the biggest highlight of that day — seeing my special forces team, the brave guys who all fought very well.”

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