Three Airmen from the Delaware Air National Guard to receive Air Force Combat Action Medal Sunday; become first members of Delaware Air Guard to get award

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Delaware Air National Guard
Headquarters, 166th Airlift Wing
2600 Spruance Drive
New Castle, DE 19720-1615 

The three Airmen are residents of Newark, Del., Egg Harbor City, N.J. and Landover, Md.

Contact: Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Matwey
Public Affairs Specialist, 166th Airlift Wing, Delaware Air National Guard
Cell 302-593-2126, or Office 302-323-3369
Release No. 2008-12-001, December 4, 2008


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.

Brigadier Gen. Hugh Broomall, deputy adjutant general, Delaware National Guard, will present medals to the Airmen.

Colonel Jonathan Groff, wing commander, 166th Airlift Wing, said, "The Airmen earned this recognition while they performed their mission in a combat zone and came under enemy fire from insurgents. They maintained their composure, protected fellow team members and successfully fought back against the attackers. I am proud of their valiant service."

Lieutenant Col. Mike Castaldi, commander, 166th Civil Engineer Squadron, said "I am very pleased that the first members of the Delaware Air National Guard to receive this prestigious medal are three of our Airmen in the 166th Civil Engineer Squadron's Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit. It is fitting and deserving that they receive this award. Their performance is a testament to the combat skills training they received, and to their dedication to duty while engaged in combat."

News media are welcome to attend the ceremony Sunday morning starting promptly at 7:45 a.m. in the base fire house; media are requested to arrive on base as early as 7:00 a.m. but no later than 7:30 a.m. Photography is permitted. After this weekend, photos of each Airman will be available upon request.

The AFCAM was first available in April of 2007. Former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley awarded six Airmen the Air Force Combat Action Medal during a ceremony June 12, 2007 at the Air Force Memorial. These Airmen were the first in the Air Force to receive the new medal.

The medal is designed to evoke Air Force heritage, scarlet with diagonal yellow stripes - adapted from the art insignia on the aircraft of Gen. Billy Mitchell, who coordinated the first air-to-ground offensive in history. Further, the AFCAM features an eagle grasping arrows in one talon and an olive branch in the other, the arrows reflecting preparedness for war while the olive branch represents a goal of peace, according to official Air Force wear guidance. In order for an Airman to wear the AFCAM a narrative explanation of the Airman's involvement in combat activities must be submitted by a person with first-hand knowledge of the incident.

Downloadable image of the Air Force Combat Action Medal:

The Delaware Air National Guard is a reserve component of the U.S. Air Force with 1,100 positions under Command of the Governor of Delaware, or the President of the United States when mobilized. The Delaware ANG has been serving Delaware and the United States of America since 1946.

This release is in the public domain, and any part may be used as written.

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