WESTHAMPTON BEACH, N.Y. -- New York Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Matthew Zimmer, a Westhampton Beach resident, and veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has received the Bronze Star with Valor for heroism for the second time.
In December 2013 Zimmer, a pararescueman, and five other members of the 106th Rescue Wing's 103rd Rescue Squadron, were honored for their heroism under fire during a December 2012 rescue mission in Afghanistan by being awarded the Bronze Star Medal with V for Valor.
This second award recognizes Zimmer's heroism while under fire on February 21, 2012, when he braved smoke, flames, and an IED explosion to recover fallen Soldiers from a wrecked vehicle and then helped perform a field tracheotomy which saved a wounded Marine's life.
The Bronze Star Medal with "V" device is the United States military's fourth highest decoration for valor.
Zimmer received this second Bronze Star with "V" device for Valor during a wing formation held at F.S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base here on May 1.
"Being Awarded the Bronze Star with V for valor, one of the nation's highest awards for heroism, is a testament to the highest standards of heroism and self-sacrifice. To earn that award twice is an amazing statement about the heroism, dedication to duty, skill, and determination of Staff Sgt. Matthew Zimmer, " said Maj. Gen. Patrick Murphy, the adjutant general of New York.
"Staff Sgt. Zimmer's actions are in the best traditions of the United States Air Force and the New York Air National Guard and we are proud to have him as a member of our Air National Guard," Murphy said.
On Feb. 21 2012, Zimmer was part of a four-man pararescue team assigned to the 46th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron of the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing at Kandahar Airfield. The team was called to respond to an improvised explosive device incident near Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, where a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle operated by soldiers from the Republic of Georgia Army had been hit and damaged. Four crewmembers had been critically injured and two dead soldiers were trapped in the vehicle.
"Ignoring life threatening hazards posed by smoke, flames and randomly detonating ordnance near the overturned vehicle, Sergeant Zimmer attempted to control the fire while manipulating the Jaws of Life to force access into the vehicle," his citation says. "While entering the vehicle and holding his breath, a second command wired improvised explosive device activated within three meters of his location, critically wounding an explosive ordnance disposal technician."
Zimmer realized that the Marine was suffocating due to a face wound. He helped another team member perform the tracheotomy –cutting a hole in the throat and inserting a breathing tube--which saved the Marine's life, and then helped move the wounded man to safety. Zimmer then returned to his initial mission: extracting the remains of the Georgian soldiers inside.
All four members of the Air Force pararescue team who responded to the incident, which included three active duty Air Force members from the 48th Rescue Squadron at Davis Monthon Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, received the Bronze Star for Valor.
The mission was one of the more unusual in his military career, Zimmer said.
Instead of flying to the scene in an American helicopter, the men deployed in a British helicopter. They were also there to recover allied soldiers, not American servicemen, he said.
"It's pretty wild to be in that experience," Zimmer said. " Knowing there were other people there as well, doing honestly pretty much the same stuff, and they were around us too, working with us, it's sometimes a little uncomfortable to get recognized."
He also got the satisfaction of knowing his actions had made a difference, Zimmer said. He heard from the Marine he helped save.
I got a text from him and a picture from him. I know that he's OK. He sent me a picture of him and his wife. He was crabbing," Zimmer said.
"Staff Sgt. Zimmer's actions on the battlefield that day were heroic," said Col. Tom Owens, the commander of the 106th Rescue Wing. "Trust was at the core of his heroic team that day, embodying the Air Force core values of integrity, selfless service and excellence," he added.
Zimmer joined the Air Force in 2001 and served as an instructor in survival, escape and evasion and in water survival. During that time he deployed to Iraq in Support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He left the Air Force in 2007 to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Human Resources at Southern Illinois University.
Zimmer enlisted in the New York Air National Guard in 2009 and serves as a pararescueman in the 103rd Rescue Squadron of the 106th Rescue Wing.
Zimmer has participated in numerous humanitarian missions and civilian rescues and has taken part in over 130 combat missions during two deployments to Afghanistan.