Uncommon Valor – Real Heroes
Two Soldiers Awarded Distinguished Service Cross
Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician Staff Sergeant Jeffrey M. Dawson and medic Sergeant Bryan C. Anderson were awarded Distinguished Service Crosses – the United States’ second-highest valor medal for Soldiers – in a February 17, 2015 ceremony at Fort Benning, Georgia. U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff, General Daniel B. Allyn, presented the medals to both Soldiers for their heroic actions while they were participating in the same October 5, 2013 mission in Afghanistan. Dawson, assigned to 28th EOD Company (Airborne), was supporting 75th Ranger Regiment and Anderson was Ranger Platoon medic.
At the award ceremony Dawson described the combat action for which both men received their medals: “That mission started out the same as every mission. The IED [Improvised Explosive Device] threat was low and it was supposed to be a quick easy target. Upon infiltration [into the remote enemy compound] everything changed in minutes.” At that point, a fleeing insurgent detonated an explosive and Dawson realized that his team was surrounded by IEDs. “Being the only EOD tech on the objective,” he explained, “it was up to me to clear [a path for] medical personnel to the wounded and clear [a path] to all other personnel to get them to safety.”
Despite being wounded by two separate explosions, over the next two hours Dawson disarmed the improvised explosive devices and aided in the evacuation of dead and wounded Soldiers. “In any situation like that, you always revert back to training and stick with what you know,” said Dawson. He recalled that he was inspired by the dedication of his fellow Soldiers who braved the explosive-ridden battlefield to recover their fallen and wounded teammates.
– From an article by Walter T. Ham IV, 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command Public Affairs.
Airman Receives Air Force Cross
U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant Ivan Ruiz was presented the Air Force Cross – the second-highest valor medal for an Airman – by Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James, at a December 17, 2014 ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Florida. Ruiz, an Air Commando pararescueman with 22d Expeditionary Special Tactics Squadron, received the medal for his 2013 heroism during a combat mission in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.
At the ceremony, Secretary James noted: “We reserve the Air Force Cross for those special few who exhibit unequaled courage and bravery despite overwhelming odds, and that’s exactly what [Ruiz] did. Today we are adding his name to an extremely small list of five additional Airmen, since Sept. 11, 2001, who demonstrated this highest caliber of service and excellence.”
On December 10, 2013, while moving through several insurgent compounds after infiltrating enemy territory with his Special Operations Forces counterparts, Ruiz and two U.S. Army Special Forces teammates became separated from the main friendly element. They were immediately confronted by four insurgents in a point-blank engagement. Ruiz and his teammates quickly killed the enemy, but suddenly became trapped in a courtyard by vicious and intense insurgent crossfire. “I didn’t really think, I reacted,” Ruiz said. “Anytime something bad happens in my career, I just fall back on my training. It prepares us for what we can encounter when we are doing our work.”
The two Soldiers were immediately wounded by the enemy’s barrage of heavy gunfire and grenades, rendering them immobile and exposed. With complete disregard for his own safety, Ruiz sprinted through the waves of gunfire to defend his teammates in their exposed position. He was forced to fight lying flat on the ground due to grenades exploding around him, some only 15 feet from his position. Ruiz continued to return fire at multiple enemy locations to prevent enemy fighters from maneuvering toward his teammates. Refusing to take cover or leave his wounded teammates exposed to potentially fatal shots, Ruiz fought the enemy alone in the open courtyard until reinforcements arrived. Once they did, he advanced again through a hail of gunfire, dragged his teammates to a nearby position of concealment and immediately administered life-saving trauma care.
Two of Ruiz’s Army Special Forces teammates on that mission attended the award ceremony, one of whom Ruiz had saved in the courtyard. “I have a great deal of respect for what [Ruiz] and guys like him bring to the fight,” that Soldier said.
– From an article by Maj. Craig Savage, Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs
Lest We Forget: Robert D. Stethem (1961-1985)
June 15, 2015 marks the 30-year anniversary of the murder of 23-year old U.S. Navy Seabee diver Robert D. Stethem by Hezbollah terrorists during their hijacking of commercial airliner TWA Flight 847. The flight, which originated in Cairo, Egypt, was hijacked on June 14, 1985 shortly after it took off from a stopover in Athens, Greece, where Stethem had boarded it after completing an assignment in that country. The hijackers, members of the Lebanese pro-Iranian Shiite Muslim extremist group, Hezbollah, diverted the flight to Beirut, then forced it to fly to Algiers, then back again to Beirut. The terrorists’ principal demand was the release of 766 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Stethem, singled out by the terrorists because he carried U.S. military identification, was savagely beaten as a way to intimidate the other 138 passengers and eight crew members. On June 15, when the terrorists’ demand that Beirut airport provide more jet fuel for the hijacked aircraft was denied, the hijackers shot Stethem and pushed his body out of the plane onto the tarmac where he died.
The TWA Flight 847 hijacking ordeal eventually lasted 17 days, during which time all but 39 of the passengers and the two pilots were released. On June 30, after U.S. President Ronald Reagan intervened with the Lebanese government, the remaining hostages were set free.
There were four Hezbollah members known to be associated with this incident:
—Imad Mughniyah: was the mastermind of this incident and many others, although he was not physically present at this incident. Mughniyah was killed in 2008 in a joint effort by Mossad and the CIA.
—Mohammad Ali Hamadei: was captured for another offense, prosecuted for that offense in addition to charges related to this 1985 incident. He was imprisoned in Germany only to be released in a trade between the German and Lebanese governments. Hamadei is currently at large.
—Hasan Izz-al-Din: is currently at large.
—Ali Atwa: is currently at large.
Although Mughniyah who masterminded the incident but was not present is dead, the terrorists who actually carried out the hijacking — Hamadei, Izz-al-Din and Atwa – remain at large and are listed on the FBI’s most wanted international terrorist list.
Robert Stethem hailed from a strong “Navy family:” his father, Richard, was a Senior Chief; his mother, Patricia, had served in the Navy; his brother, Kenneth, was a Chief Boatswain’s Mate Navy SEAL; and his brother, Patrick, had served as a Seabee Diver First Class. At the time of his murder, Robert Stethem’s U.S. Navy rank was Steelworker 2d Class (SW2), but in 2010 he was posthumously promoted to Master Chief Constuctionman. He had previously been posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals. In 1995, the USS Stethem (DDG-63), an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer named in his honor, was commissioned.
Robert D. Stethem is buried in Section 59 of Arlington National Cemetery, near a number of other Americans who are victims of worldwide terrorism.