NEW CASTLE – Early this Sunday morning Dec. 7 three Airmen from the Delaware Air National Guard will become the unit’s first recipients of the Air Force Combat Action Medal, awarded for their service in actions they took in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM and while stationed at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan February to July 2008.
According to the Air Force, the Air Force Combat Action Medal (AFCAM) is for Airmen that have directly participated in active combat, either in the air or on the ground, as part of their official duty. Airmen can apply for the award to recognize participation in combat activities dating back as far as Sept. 11, 2001.
The three Airmen receiving the medal serve in the 166th Civil Engineer Squadron’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit, whose mission is to locate, identify and disarm improvised explosive devices that are frequently used against U.S. and coalition forces throughout the combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ranks, names and hometowns of the three award recipients:
Staff Sgt. Aaron Sweeney, a resident of Landover, Md., zip code 20785.
Staff Sgt. Aaron Weber, a resident of Newark, Delaware, zip code 19702.
Staff Sgt. David Gazzara, a resident of Egg Harbor City, N.J., zip code 08215.
According to the official citations, each Airman was deliberately outside the defended perimeter while conducting official duties and was in grave danger of injury or death during this engagement with the enemy. All three personnel were exposed to direct and indirect fire as part of enemy attacks during two different convoy operations. The EOD personnel responded to the attacks by taking action to defend themselves and their team to neutralize the enemy.
Staff Sergeants Sweeney and Weber were on a ground combat mission in a convoy on April 27, 2008 when their team of friendly elements was attacked by indirect fire, small arms and rocket propelled grenade (RPG) fire. Several friendly elements and the EOD vehicle were hit by small arms fire multiple times. The task force and EOD team suppressed enemy fire by returning fire with weapons and by calling in air strikes. Sgt. Sweeney, the driver of the EOD vehicle, also rapidly positioned his vehicle to best use the vehicle’s weaponry, identified enemy firing positions so other friendly forces could quickly engage the enemy, and rapidly positioned the EOD vehicle to provide cover to another of the convoy’s vehicles when it was struck by an RPG, wounding the gunner. Sgt. Sweeney continued to call out targets to his gunner. Sgt. Sweeney’s quick thinking, coupled with his instinctive driving skills led to a cessation of all hostile actions, resulted in several enemy KIA and allowed friendly forces to continue the mission. Sgt. Weber, the vehicle gunner/radio operator, reported muzzle flashes and RPG smoke trails to the maneuver elements, calling our direction and distance, allowing them to quickly identify and engage the enemy. Additionally, when one of the vehicles was hit by an RPG, Sgt. Weber returned fire from the turret while the EOD vehicle was positioned to provide cover for another vehicle and a wounded gunner. Sgt. Weber’s quick response and positive actions aided immensely in the cessation of all hostile actions, resulted in numerous enemy KIA and allowed all personnel to safely continue the mission.
Staff Sgt. Gazarra was in a convoy on May 9, 2008 enroute from one forward operating base to another when the convoy was engaged by effective small arms fire from one location. Sgt. Garzarra observed the enemy fire and plotted the insurgent’s location to help the convoy gunners return effective suppressing fire, silencing the enemy. Enemy mortar fire then landed within the convoy, and the convoy was attacked by effective small arms fire from a second location. Sgt. Gazzara continued to plot locations and help the convoy commander relay fire direction until the attackers ceased all hostile action.