PORTLAND AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Portland Ore.– In a rare break with normal ceremonial protocol, the commander of Air Force Special Operations Command invited family members onto the stage for photos following the pinning of each of the five Bronze Star Medals and one Purple Heart Medal awarded to members of the Oregon Air National Guard’s 125th Special Tactics Squadron.
“This ceremony is as much to honor the families of these airmen as it is for the airmen themselves,” said Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, who flew in from AFSOC headquarters in Hurlburt Field, Fla., to present the awards.
The six airmen, in Air Force dress uniform, with their signature special operations scarlet beret, were honored during the afternoon ceremony in the Rosenbaum Hangar for their distinguished service in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The crowd was comprised of airmen, soldiers, Oregon National Guard leadership, representatives from the Port of Portland, and family members and friends.
Five of the airmen were awarded Bronze Stars, two of which included the “V” for valor, and another received the Purple Heart. The group are all trained combat controllers in an elite squadron of Special Operations — a career field which has garnered the highest number of decorations in the entire Air Force, remarked Fiel.
“Between the demanding pace of today’s global special operations and your community’s commitment to the quiet professionals, we are all fortunate to be able to recognize these special tactic airmen on occasions like this,” said Fiel.
Recipients of the Bronze star medal were; Staff Sgt. David A. Albright, Tech. Sgt. Jeffery A. Dolezal, Staff Sgt. Jacob M. Guffey, Master Sgt. Scott A. Geisser and Senior Airman Chadwick J. Boles. Tech. Sgt. Douglas J. Matthews was awarded Purple Heart, the nation’s oldest medal, first established by President George Washington on August 7, 1782, while he served as the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. The award features the likeness of Washington on its front.
The Bronze Star Medal the fourth-highest combat decoration and the ninth highest U.S. military award in order of precedence. Established on Feb. 4, 1944, it may be awarded for acts of heroism, acts of merit, or meritorious service in a combat zone. When awarded for acts of heroism, the medal is awarded with the "V" device.
As each airman received their award from Fiel, all the family members were recognized and invited up on stage for group photographs and acknowledgment.
“Military families pay a heavy price in support of their loved ones in uniform so today this is your ceremony so please take the opportunity to take photographs and enjoy the time together,” he said.
Presiding over the ceremony was Oregon Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Steven D. Gregg, commander of the Oregon Air National Guard.
“Today we have the opportunity to recognize the incredible work our Combat Controllers are doing when working with collation forces to provide stabilize throughout Afghanistan,” Gregg said, as the honorees sat in a row across the stage.
The current mobilization began for the 125th STS in May 2011 as members began leaving in three separate cycles lasting six-month per deployment in November 2011. The last of the three deployment cycles will end in March 2013. A total of 29 Oregon citizen-airmen from the 125th STS have deployed to Afghanistan since May 2011.
Combat controllers are highly-trained experts who deploy undetected into combat and hostile environments, where they perform a variety of task to include; establishing assault zones and air fields, conduct air traffic control, fire support, command and control, counter terrorism as well as humanitarian missions.
During the latest cycle of deployments, the airmen took part in over 800 combat missions, including 100 fire fights, which averaged more than one every three days. Furthermore, they neutralized over 190 enemy combatants with no civilian causalities, Gregg said.
“The scope and the scale of what the combat controllers of the 125th have achieved on the battle field in the past 15-months is nothing short of remarkable,” he added. “The airmen of the 125th are as accomplished as they are unique to the mission they support.”
Master Sgt. Scott Geisser, who has been 125th STS since the unit formed in 2005, has played a critical role over the past eight years helping to build the squadron from the ground up. His actions during the deployment drew upon his tactical skills in command and control with more than 100 fixed and rotary wing aircraft supporting operations targeted Taliban insurgents in numerous fire fights.
A native of Gig Harbor, Wash., Staff Sgt. Jacob Guffey attended the University of Hawaii at Hilo for two years before joining the military, and taking on the two years’ worth of training necessary to become a combat controller with the 125th. In Afghanistan he embedded with a Marine Special Operations team and Afghan Commando Battalion on complex operations to clear deeply entrenched insurgent pockets in the Helmand province. He also controlled four medical evacuations, including one while he preforming treatment to a teammate who had been struck by sniper fire.
Staff Sgt. David Albright’s Air Force career began as a crew chief repairing and maintaining many of the aircraft that would later support his role in theatre as a combat controller. A native of Taylor, Mich., he entered the demanding "pipeline training" of the Combat Control courses as he transitioned to the Oregon Air National Guard in June 2008, following six years in the active duty Air Force. During his tour in Afghanistan, his team was ambushed by 20 insurgents while on patrol searching for an automatic anti-aircraft weapon. Albright quickly engaged the enemy while coordinating two close support A-10 aircraft with strafing attacks to counter the insurgents.
Once an Air Force captain, Tech. Sgt. Jeffery Dolezal traded in his commission after graduating from the Air Force Academy in 2002 to become a combat controller with the 720th Operational Support Squadron in Hurlburt Field, Fla. As a member of the Oregon Air National Guard, he is responsible for coordinating and executing training for operators in the 125th STS. He conducted more than 170 fixed wing and rotary wing attacks during his last deployment and his team was instrumental in improving relations with the local population, helping garner support for the local Afghan security forces.
Senior Airman Chadwick Boles lettered football and volleyball in high school before joining the Air Force in early 2005. Like Dolezal, he was previously assigned on active duty with the 720th Operational Support Squadron before joining the 125th STS as a drill status member. It was during his most recent deployment that Boles earned his Bronze Star with Valor for engaging the enemy under heavy fire, exposing himself to incoming rounds, while he helped save a teammate who had been shot. He also assisted in the urgent care of that member until a safe medical evacuation helicopter could be secured.
Currently a student at the University of Colorado, Tech. Sgt. Douglas Matthews first served on active duty in the Air Force from 2003 to 2008 and later became a member of the Oregon Air National Guard. Before being wounded and receiving the Purple Heart Medal from his latest deployment to Afghanistan, Matthews himself has been active in the Wounded Warrior Foundation.
“What a privilege it is to honor their extraordinary service here today,” said Gregg.
In keeping with the domestic mission of the National Guard, within days of returning to Oregon, several members responded to search and rescue missions in support of “Super-Storm” Sandy.
“It is truly amazing what Air Force units like the 125th provide to the wider Special Operations teams,” Fiel said.
Special operations teams are made up of Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines, and have been responsible over the last 11 years, killing or capturing more terrorist then all the conventional forces combined, Fiel added.
The 125th Special Tactics Squadron is one of only two Special Tactic units in the Air National Guard. Established May 27, 2005, the 125th STS has deployed forces in support of numerous overseas combat deployments including Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn in Iraq, and domestic emergency response missions such as the flooding in Vernonia, Ore., in 2007, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and the recent response efforts following Super Storm Sandy.