EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Four Explosive Ordnance Disposal Airmen added five medals to their list of individual merits performed while engaged in combat April 19.
Tech Sgt. James Fitzgerald and Staff Sgt. Kelly Badger were awarded Bronze Stars while Staff Sgts. Kevin Parke and Christopher Lacy were awarded the Purple Heart during the 96th Air Base Wing commanders call here. Parke was injured in two separate incidents in Afghanistan earning a second oak leaf cluster.
After pinning on the honors, Col. Sal Nodjomian, 96th ABW commander, said the Purple Heart is not something you ever want to give because it means someone was wounded and/or killed.
“Despite being thrown from their armored vehicles, they got right back in the fight against the enemy with unbelievable bravery and courage,” he said. “It’s an honor to be out here thanking members of our family.”
The EOD Airmen echoed the commander’s comments after the ceremony sharing war stories, injury recovery and mourning fallen comrades. Everyone talked about the team-like connection their career field has. The bonds with other services and countries while deployed are why they say they keep going back into the fight.
“I feel like more deserve it in EOD. I’m just a small part,” said Parke. “Everyday people are out there in harm’s way.”
Parke’s vehicle was hit twice by an IED in Afghanistan during 2010. The first time the blast caused a concussion and back injuries as he continued to disarm the 40-pound device with his team. Later that year, a larger device lifted his team’s 40,000 pound vehicle six feet off the ground and threw him 14 feet. After gaining consciousness, despite his facial injuries, he prepped his weapon to protect his comrades from possible dangerous attack.
“There was a big fire fight two days before and two days later and were more IEDs,” he said. “I share this award with others. It’s an award you don’t want, but I was unlucky enough to be blown up three times.”
As a former security forces member, leaving the fight isn’t an option so, if a wounded warrior position is available, he said he’d take it. If the service denies his request to deploy again he has hope he can train the next generation in such a position.
Lacy shared a similar story of being happy to be recognized, but humbly recognized others just as brave, some who even died before him.
Like Parke, his team’s vehicle was thrown, but despite sustaining a concussion he refused medical evacuation and continued the mission, disarming two more IEDs in the area.
“He’s my hero,” Jennifer Lacy said about her husband.
Together they are working out new methods of communication at home considering the brain injuries the sergeant has been diagnosed with. The Lacys also see an opportunity in providing their experience as part of the research being done at military hospitals to help other wounded warriors.
The Bronze Star winners shared their stories of facing IEDs and were awarded for helping others avoid the dangers Purple Heart recipients endured. Fitzgerald led 49 combat missions in Afghanistan that saved countless lives by destroying a 200 pound IED and saved 42 personnel by destroying an anti-personnel mine. Badger’s action led to the recovery of electronic components essential to matching biometric evidence with an IED builder, directly crippling the Taliban network.
It’s all a part of the mission for the EOD career field for all branches of military service who begin their training just down the road from Eglin.
“I picked EOD because it is like a brotherhood,” said Parke. “More of them should be getting recognition and medical help.”