News: When 2 services collide: Airman uses soldier skills to save lives
Story by Sgt. Tamika Dillard
KABUL, Afghanistan – After more than eight months without any direct insurgent activity, service members at Camp Phoenix did not think this day would be different from any other, however it was.
On April 2, Capt. Darrel A. DeLeon, International Security Assistance Forces Rule of Law liaison officer and a Billings, Mont., native, was walking into work on Camp Phoenix when he heard exploding hand grenades and small-arms fire.
He recalled moments later hearing two more large additional explosions bringing with it clouds of black smoke and a hail of gun fire, indicating a complex attack.
“I kicked into soldier mode,” said DeLeon. “My first reaction was to grab my body armor, my extra ammo and quickly get to the gate.”
Little did he know three suicide bombers had rushed the main gate of Camp Phoenix in an attempt to pave the way for multiple incoming offensive fighting forces. Two of the insurgents were able to successfully denote their personal borne improved explosive devices. The third suicide bomber was fatally wounded, rendering him unsuccessful.
He ran as fast as he could for more than 600 meters in full battle rattle to join the fight without hesitation and regard for his own personal safety.
“All I could see at that time was those were my soldiers fighting and I needed to be there with my soldiers, to protect them,” said DeLeon.
With so much intense, fierce firing between the Camp Phoenix soldiers and the insurgents, he was quick to realize some soldiers needed medical attention.
“I was working my shift at the Camp Phoenix entry control point,” said Spc. Stephen Leon, Headquarters and Headquarters Company 1-181 Infantry, Camp Phoenix, Kabul and native of Puerto Rico.
“I saw an insurgent reach for his detonator and I yelled to take cover. The blast was so intense I was knocked against a jersey barrier. Once I regained consciousness Capt. DeLeon was pulling me from harm’s way. He took me behind a barrier and started to evaluate me; telling me to breathe and calm down,” he added.
As DeLeon was assisting Leon he looked around and saw there were wounded soldiers still fighting to protect their base, fellow service members and civilians.
“I remember calming down and catching my breath,” said Leon. “Capt. DeLeon told me that I would be okay as he proceeded to run back into open areas providing first aid and emergency transportation to soldiers that were severely wounded in the ongoing fire fight to the nearby troop medical center.”
DeLeon put himself in harm’s way many times that day rendering first aid to “his soldiers,” saving the lives of three American soldiers under direct threat of enemy fire.
“The 'Dustoff' community has the motto So others may live,'” said DeLeon. “I still live by this every day I breathe new breath into my lungs. “Living up to that selfless motto is exceptionally rewarding to me.”
DeLeon goes on to say, “I believe everything happens for a reason and that day was no exception. God placed me in the right place at the right time to help my brothers in need.”
Leon is truly blessed that God placed DeLeon in the right place at the right time.
“I truly believe Capt. DeLeon is an invaluable asset to not only his unit, but also to all service members that work in this unpredictable and sometimes hostile environment on a daily basis,” said Leon. “His acts reiterate the pride I feel in this uniform and the faith I have in my battle buddies.”
Not many know this about the U. S. Air Force captain, but he is a former Army sergeant first class who served 14 years as a combat medic. He credits his acts of heroism to his previous career experiences.
“My service as an Army combat and flight medic was the most rewarding time of my career,” said DeLeon.
DeLeon said he takes his hat off to his fellow medics from all branches of service who put their lives on the line everyday in this chaotic conflict.
Just recently the ISAF Commander, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, awarded DeLeon the Joint Service Commendation Medal with Valor for his courage under fire, swift actions and selfless service.
As his eyes began to fill with water he paused, took a deep breath and said, “This medal is for Matt.”
DeLeon is referring to U.S. Army Sgt. Matthew David Hunter, who was a dear friend, a fellow combat medic and a soldier who worked for him in 2/3 Armored Cavalry Regiment. He was killed by an IED blast January 23, 2006, in Baghdad, Iraq.
As he reflected on the events of that day, DeLeon had a few words for all service members.
“Whatever you do don’t get complacent in this type of environment,” he said. “Take all the training that you have learned throughout your career seriously because you never know when you will have to use it again.”
DeLeon ended with these words, “I am a space and missile officer for the Air Force now, but I will always be a combat medic and a soldier.”
DeLeon is scheduled to return to 2nd Space Operations Squadron, Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colo., as a GPS mission crew commander later this year after a yearlong deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
His first stop once he touches down in the United States is to see his son Collin, 16 and daughter Collette, 15 who are currently with their mother in Texas.
Leon, who has already returned back to his home unit in the United States, had one last word for DeLeon.
“There will not be a day that goes by that I do not thank God for the life I have, and for his [Deleon’s] selfless service,” said Leon. “He is truly an embodiment of the soldier’s creed.”