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Life-savers honored for valor demonstrated in Afghanistan
ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England – Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, 3rd Air Force and 17th Expeditionary Air Force commander, reads medal citations for Staff Sgt. Nicholas Miller and Master Sgt. Tracy Debbs , 56th Rescue Squadron pararescuemen, June 19, 2013. Miller was presented the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor and Debbs was presented the Bronze Star Medal with Valor for saving critically-wounded coalition soldiers while taking enemy gunfire in Afghanistan on Aug. 4, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stephanie Mancha)
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Life-savers honored for valor demonstrated in Afghanistan

Posted 6/19/2013   Updated 6/19/2013 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Stephanie Mancha
48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

6/19/2013 - ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England  -- A Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor and a Bronze Star Medal with Valor were presented to two RAF Lakenheath pararescue Airmen at the Strike Eagle Complex, June 19.

Staff Sgt. Nicholas Miller and Master Sgt. Tracy Debbs, 56th Rescue Squadron, received these honors from Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, 3rd Air Force and 17th Expeditionary Air Force commander, for life-saving actions conducted in Afghanistan Aug. 4, 2012.

"We train Airmen that are dedicated to saving the lives of others, especially in our pararescue field; 'So Others May Live' is the motto," said Franklin during the ceremony. "We never leave anybody behind on the battlefield. We go get everybody, and you guys went to extreme measures to save your fellow coalition members."

While conducting standard operations in Afghanistan last August, a unit of New Zealand coalition soldiers came under attack and reached out for help.

"We reported for our alert window and were called out for a Cat A [casualty evacuation alert]," said Debbs. "We received continuous updates of more casualties on our way to the area."

Debbs led a pararescue team to include Miller, on a 7-hour mission, directed his team to patients scattered in separate locations, provided landing zone security, identifyed enemy fighting positions and called for close air support from HH-60G Pave Hawks.

"We were on two separate aircraft. On my aircraft, we were trying to figure out a plan based on the current information we had," said Debbs. "There were folks on the ground under attack and the numbers just kept growing. No one anticipated it was going to go on as long as it did."

The first aircraft flew into the landing zone where Miller extracted the three most critically injured patients and provided patient care while under enemy gunfire.

"I remember leaving [the dispatch location] thinking that we were going to pick up one or two casualties, and on the first trip we picked up six," said Miller.

This was Miller's first deployment and first combat rescue mission.

"Sergeant Miller did everything he could have done that day," said Debbs. "I could see from above that he was a well trained and prepared team member."

The team delivered their patients to the forward surgical team location and returned to the battlefield.

"We trained and prepped for this kind of mission," said Miller. "I don't remember being in shock, but afterwards when I would stop to think about what happened, it caught up with me."

During the second round of the rescue, the team was pinned down by direct fire on a rugged hillside.

"The second time around was intense. The patients had fragmentary wounds, which usually only happen with close-range projectiles. It wasn't until then we realized we were in direct contact," said Debbs.

Debbs, Miller and the other pararescue team members saved 10 wounded coalition soldiers that day.

"We are happy to use the skills the Air Force has invested in us, but as a pararescuemen, if we go to work and have a good day that means someone else is having the worst day of their life," said Debbs.

Miller and Debbs agreed that they were in the right place at the right time and any other pararescueman would have done the same thing.

"It's hard to get rewarded for something that was bad for so many people. It's bittersweet for me," said Miller.

The Distinguished Flying Cross is presented to any military member who distinguishes himself or herself in support of operations by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight. The Bronze Star with Valor is the fifth-highest combat decoration and is presented for acts of heroism, acts off merit or meritorious service in a combat zone. When awarded for heroism, both of these medals are accompanied by the distinction of Valor.

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