Air Force introduces Volume 8 of Portraits in Courage

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Lesley Waters
  • Air Force Public Affairs Agency, Operating Location – P
The Air Force released its eighth volume of Portraits in Courage, highlighting three teams and thirteen Airmen for their honor, valor, devotion and selfless sacrifice in the face of extreme danger to themselves and others.

“Our Airmen are faced with situations like this each and every day around the globe,” wrote Air Force Chief of Staff Mark A. Welsh III and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody in the volume's preface. “And each of them has their own story. In fact, it would take many volumes to highlight them all. They believe in integrity, in service, in excellence and are ready and willing to go in harm’s way.”

Cody recognized five of the 22 Portraits in Courage recipients during the Portraits in Courage 8 Honorees Luncheon at the Women’s Memorial, Feb. 5 in Arlington, Va.

The 22 recipients represent all major commands and multiple career fields including medical, pararescue, Air Force Office of Special Investigation, explosive ordnance disposal and others. To date, the Air Force has recognized 175 Airmen through this project.

“There’s a reason I don’t worry about the future of the Air Force,” Welsh said. “It has nothing to do with technology. It has nothing to do with talent. It has to do with heart. I’ll never worry, not while these guys are on our side. This is your Air Force.”

All of this year's Portraits in Courage stories and profiles from previous volumes are featured on the Air Force Portraits in Courage website:

This volume features:

Cadet 1st Lts. Quianna Samuels, Alison Nordlander, and Ashlyn McNeely (Baylor University Air Force ROTC nursing students, Waco, Texas) just finished their Air Force ROTC Leadership Laboratory requirements on the Baylor University campus. As they walked from their car, a deafening blast shook the air and a mushroom cloud climbed into the evening sky, the result of a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant one mile away. For more than four hours, these future Air Force officers treated dozens of injured people as fires continued to burn through the night and heavy smoke blanketed the site. (Since publication 2nd Lts. Nordlander and Samuels received their commissions in May 2013. Samuels is stationed at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. and Nordlander is stationed at Eglin AFB, Fla).

Staff Sgt. Mark Hajduk (354th Civil Engineer Squadron EOD technician, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska) and Senior Airman Garrett Amorose (48th Civil Engineer Squadron EOD technician, Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England) and their EOD team were tasked with clearing a region of improvised explosive devices during the second day of an air assault. After the team cleared their eighth IED, a massive explosion detonated 40 meters away. The team responded immediately and found a scene of confusion with several startled but uninjured Soldiers lying on the ground near the blast site, except for one located in a 15-foot deep well.

Maj. Matthew Komatsu, Master Sgt. Paul Barendregt, Tech. Sgt. Kyle Minshew and Tech. Sgt. Dan Warren (212th Rescue Squadron combat rescue officer and pararescuemen, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska) received a call for help following an insurgent attack on Bastion Airfield in Afghanistan. The number of casualties was unknown. Despite a lack of reliable intelligence, the team headed across the airfield. Amidst a blazing fuel farm and attack helicopters hovering overhead, they encountered a firefight between a British quick response force and several insurgents.

Master Sgt. Andrew Adrian (673rd Civil Engineer Squadron EOD technician, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska) partnered with British special operation forces and Afghan commandos on a mission to sweep and clear enemy compounds. His quick and fearless actions during the mission prevented the death of the two commandos and protected the remainder of the unit from grave injury.

Staff Sgt. Michael Blout (23rd Special Tactics Squadron combat controller, Hurlburt Field, Fla.) averted catastrophe during high-risk combat operations when his team entered Chak Valley, a known hotbed of insurgent activity in Afghanistan’s Wardak Province. The team split into two elements to patrol through dense, jungle-like undergrowth where one of the elements was ambushed and immediately took casualties.

Tech. Sgt. Ronnie Brickey (Air Force Special Operations School EOD technician, Hurlburt Field, Fla.) visually identified a victim-operated, pressure plate improvised explosive device, which saved the life of another EOD technician. After rendering the IED safe, Brickey’s team immediately received fire from three separate locations.

Special Agent Willie Cooper (AFOSI Detachment 111th special agent, Edwards AFB, Calif.) was finishing reports in his deployed office at Camp Simba, Kenya, when he was notified of a plane crash just outside of the Kenyan Naval Base airstrip, an area known for its population of leopards, poisonous snakes and lions. Within ten minutes of the incident notification, Cooper organized a response team, directed personnel to gather medical supplies and rapidly departed to respond to the crash site.

Master Sgt. Tracy Debbs (56th Rescue Squadron pararescuemen, Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England) rallied his team, sprinting to their helicopters at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. A coalition soldier from New Zealand had sustained injuries in a firefight and required immediate evacuation.

Master Sgt. Christopher Doggett (17th Training Wing military training leader, Goodfellow AFB, Texas) accompanied by his wife Brook, was one of 26 wounded-warrior veterans who were honorary guests and members of the procession in the 2012 Midland/Odessa, Texas, “Hunt for Heroes” Veterans Day Parade. The wounded warriors and their spouses were divided into two groups of 25 and seated on two decorated, flatbed tractor-trailers, each driven by individual trucks. On one section of the parade route, the trucks, with trailers in tow, had to cross a set of railroad tracks.

Staff Sgt. Kyle Fulton (23rd Special Tactics Squadron combat controller, Hurlburt Field) and his comrades were alerted to a nearby fire caused by a large explosion. En route, Fulton established communications with aircraft approaching the scene, identified friendly positions, and coordinated aircraft attacks on insurgents maneuvering north of the base’s perimeter wall.

Tech. Sgt. Jarrod Mills (315th Civil Engineer Squadron EOD technician, Joint Base Charleston, S.C.) deployed directly into a known insurgent stronghold in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan to clear a homemade explosive production site. His EOD team searched an island in the middle of the Helmand River where they found and destroyed 50 kilograms of explosives and captured one insurgent who was scouting their movements.

Staff Sgt. Nicole (Nellist) Richardson (802nd Civil Engineer Squadron EOD technician, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas) faced her most challenging mission as a member of EOD team deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The EOD team was tasked to support the Marine Corps’ 1st Combat Engineer Battalion in support of route clearance missions, mitigating the threat from roadside bombs and keeping supply routes open.

Special Agent Robert Powers (AFOSI, Quantico, Va.) and his then fiancée, now wife, were shopping at a local grocery store in Norfolk, Virginia. Powers heard someone say there was a fire in the men’s restroom and customers began fleeing the building, concerned about their own safety. Powers, however, entered the restroom to see if anyone remained inside and found an elderly man engulfed in flames from waist down.

Master Sgt. Delorean Sheridan (21st Special Tactics Squadron combat controller, Pope Field, N.C.) was completing a routine pre-brief for a combat control mission at his deployed location in Wardak Province, Afghanistan. While his team loaded gear into their vehicles, an Afghan national police officer suddenly turned and opened fire with a truck-mounted machine gun merely 25 feet away. Simultaneously, 15 to 20 insurgents just outside the village engaged the base with heavy machine gunfire.

Maj. R. Shaine Thrower (315th Weapons Squadron nuclear and missile operator, Nellis AFB, Nev.) was off-duty on his way to pick up his daughter from a field-trip when he first noticed the bus on fire. As he was pulling up his vehicle behind the tour bus, he saw flames emanating from the left-rear wheel well. Although his professional expertise is tailored to teaching graduate-level nuclear physics and advanced intercontinental ballistic missile operation, Masters was in no way deterred from taking the actions he knew were needed at that moment.

Senior Airman Andrew Williamson (48th Rescue Squadron pararescuman, Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.) responded to an urgent medical evacuation request. Two soldiers were trapped inside a burning Georgian-armored vehicle that struck an IED. Williamson and three team members loaded a British helicopter with 200 pounds of extraction gear and landed a quarter mile from the fiery scene.