Two Air Force pararescuemen have received the nation's third highest award for valor for separate missions in Afghanistan nearly one year apart that saved the lives of their fellow troops.
Tech. Sgt. Gavin Fisher, 350th Special Warfare Training Squadron, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, and Staff Sgt. Daniel Swensen, 58th Rescue Squadron of Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, each received a Silver Star during a ceremony at Nellis on Friday. Fisher was also awarded a Purple Heart in recognition of combat wounds.
Fisher was a part of the Ghazni province offensive that began against Taliban fighters in eastern Afghanistan on Aug. 11, 2018, according to the Air Force. Swensen distinguished himself on Sept. 13, 2019 in Farah province, on the opposite side of the country, prosecuting a ground offensive against the Taliban.
While their missions were distinct, Fisher and Swensen faced similar peril: The two men engaged in heavy fire for two days and sustained battle wounds, but managed to fend off the enemy while treating other casualties on the battlefield.
Together, they saved over 40 lives and took out more than 100 enemy fighters, the Air Force said in a release.
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"For some of you, you may ask yourself how these two individuals in the face of such adversity performed so admirably," Lt. Col. Douglas Holliday, commander of the 58th Rescue Squadron, said in a statement. "Airmen like Dan and Gavin are part of a profession that dedicates their lives to a motto 'That Others May Live.'"
"A foundation of that motto is a pledge they made going through selection and years of arduous training. In the face of adversity, when Americans and our allies' lives are on the line, under no circumstance will you quit on them. Never quit," Holliday added.
'Fighting for each other'
Fisher was part of a team working to thwart Taliban efforts to gain territory following a surprise attack on the city of Ghazni. He was assigned to the 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron at the time.
He was operating as the rear gunner for the lead convoy vehicle when the Taliban hit the convoy's position repeatedly with rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire.
During the chaos of the fight, Fisher was hit by shrapnel, but continued to fight and save others despite his own wounds, the Air Force said. He ran back and forth to render medical aid -- including blood transfusions for two critically wounded soldiers -- and oversee multiple helicopter evacuations before returning to the convoy to fire on the enemy.
"Wounded and refusing to leave with the patients, Fisher was involved in a second ambush," the release said. "Placing others' lives before his, he treated five additional critically injured partner force casualties and requested a second medical evacuation."
Again running through a barrage of gunfire, Fisher then treated another five casualties.
As the clearing operation went on, an RPG struck Fisher's vehicle, immobilizing him. After first returning fire and directing his team to safety, Fisher finally had to seek medical care for himself.
"Getting this medal is important, because it lets people know the war is still going on, and valiant efforts by men and women are still going forth," Fisher said. "People are still out there dying and fighting for each other, and it needs to be recognized."
Rescue is the Job
Swensen was attached to an Army Special Forces unit working to expel Taliban fighters from the Anar Darah District Center and police headquarters, the Air Force said. The operation included a helicopter assault from above, while Swensen, part of Operational Detachment-Alpha 1215, led his teammates through a compound.
Then, they were ambushed.
While the team took steady bombardment, a grenade hit a wall near their position, wounding Swensen and five troops, the release said.
The blast separated the troops from the remaining support team. Cordoned off and physically backed into a corner, Swensen "fired back at the Taliban and directed his partner forces to safety," the release said. Swensen then ran through "intense enemy fire to rescue a fallen soldier incapacitated by his injuries" and treated him despite the gunfire spraying around him, it said.
Swensen rounded up troops in need of medical transport, and even carried one soldier on his shoulders to vacate the gunfire zone; they covered about a about a half-mile of ground so the wounded could be safely evacuated.
Then came a second ambush.
After moving the hurt as quickly as he could, Swensen returned to the city compound "to retrieve four additional casualties," the Air Force said. Swensen waited until those forces were accounted for before he was treated for his own injuries.
"It's weird to receive so much attention for something that I feel anyone else would've done on the battlefield that night," Swensen said. "I'm honored my peers think I deserve this medal."
Pacific Air Forces commander Gen Charles 'CQ' Brown lauded Swensen and Fisher during the ceremony, noting the two airmen have joined an elite group of exemplary warfighters.
"We can become so absorbed by the tales and the characters and their abilities that we can lose sight of our real-life heroes -- heroes like Tech. Sgt. Gavin Fisher and Staff Sgt. Daniel Swensen," Brown said.
"Only 1 percent of our service men and women, representing 1 percent of the population have received this Silver Star. So, these gentlemen are in a very exclusive club."
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.
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