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Airman Dies of Injuries After Non-Combat-Related Incident in UAE

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5 Airmen Receive First ‘R’ Devices for Taking Down ISIS Targets

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The Air Force awarded its first five “R” devices this week, recognizing the outstanding performance of drone operators contributing to combat missions remotely.

The device was presented to four MQ-9 Reaper pilots and one sensor operator from the 432nd Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, all identified only by rank and first name for security reasons.

The pilots included Maj. Asa, Capt. Evan, Capt. Abrham and 1st Lt. Eric; and the sensor operator was Senior Airman Jason, according to an Air Force news release published Thursday.

The awards were presented for three separate operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, one of which took place in February 2016, one in August 2016, and the third was not specified, according to the release and award citations obtained by Military.com.

The February operation, involving pilots Asa and Evan, involved a 74-day persistent attack and reconnaissance campaign focused on one ISIS militant described in the release as a “high-value target and known terrorist” and the number-two enemy in the region.

They user Reapers to coordinate with other aircraft on the battlefield and “buddy-lased” to guide and execute the strike, taking out the high-value militant.

The August operation, described in medal citations, involved pilot Eric and sensor operator Jason.

Eric, then piloting an MQ-1B Predator, discovered a pickup truck loaded with a large-caliber machine gun, headed toward friendly forces on the ground. While the pilot watched, the truck would fire at the friendly troops, then pull back and hide in a garage.

According to citations, Eric and Jason contacted their controller, asking for a nine-line order to take out the target.

“While maneuvering to meet a restricted run-in heading, [Eric] observed a large group of civilians, including children, on the opposite side of the road in an alley near where the technical was firing,” his citation reads. “[Eric] elected to wait until the technical returned to the garage to minimize collateral damage despite increasing the complexity of the attack.”

When the truck came back, Eric and Jason obliterated it with an AGM-114 Hellfire missile, killing two enemy fighters in the process, according to the citation.

The third operation, for which the Air Force did not release a timeframe, involved pilot Abrham.

He and his aircrew had been scanning a hostile area when weather turned bad, forcing manned aircraft in the region to retreat to safety, according to a release. The team stayed on station with their Reaper and, several hours later, they saw enemy fighters start to fire on friendly forces.

“While battling increasingly adverse conditions, Abrham dynamically employed four Hellfire missiles, eliminating three enemy targets, two vehicles, and one mortar system,” an Air Force release states. “He then navigated the safe return of his aircraft despite the marginal weather.”

The commander of the 432nd, Col. Julian Cheater, applauded the five airmen, who received Meritorious Service Medals and Air Force Commendation Medals affixed with the “R” Device.

“It is a great honor to recognize the contributions of these Airmen,” Cheater said in a statement. “Much of the world will never know details of their contributions due to operational security, but rest assured that they have made significant impacts while saving friendly lives.”

The “R” device was authorized with clear specifications for each service last year, and can be awarded for operations dating back to January 2016. It’s a move on the part of the Defense Department to recognize the work of those who go above and beyond in support of military operations, sometimes from thousands of miles away from the battlefield.

The Air Force is not the first service to award the new device; last December, the Marine Corps presented Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals bearing the device to two staff sergeants who operated unmanned aerial systems in support of an unspecified military operation.

— Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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Families Meet in Mississippi a Year After 16 Troops Died in Crash

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JACKSON, Miss. — A year after a U.S. Marine Corps plane broke into pieces high in the sky and slammed into a Mississippi soybean field, relatives and friends are keeping alive the memories of the 15 Marines and Navy corpsman who died in the crash.

It’s an active form of memory — building, telling, hiking, running — to remember the New York-based crewmembers who flew the KC-130T military transport, as well as among the special forces Marines they were carrying from North Carolina to California for training.

“All we want to do is talk about them and share who they were with the rest of the world,” said Anna Johnson, the widow of Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Johnson, a crew member.

More than 200 family members and friends will gather Saturday in the Mississippi Delta town of Itta Bena to dedicate a monument to the July 10, 2017, crash of the plane, whose call sign was Yanky 72.

Among speakers at a ceremony at Mississippi Valley State University will be Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps. Ronald L. Green, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith. Mississippi’s Marine Corps League led an effort that raised more than $100,000 for a memorial outside a government building where the recovery effort was based, several miles east of the crash site. Mississippi lawmakers named the stretch of U.S. 82 that ran through the debris field the Yanky 72 Memorial Highway.

For many of the relatives, it will be the first time they’ve come to the crash site and the first time members of all families have gathered. Several praised the warmth of the Mississippi organizers.

“I’m there for a community that has been unbelievably kind to us,” Johnson said. “I want to thank them for this blessing that they have given to us, to build this memorial.”

No cause for the plane crash has been released, as the investigation continues. All of the 12 remaining Marine Corps KC-130Ts were grounded for months. Some, but not all, are flying now, said Marine Forces Reserve spokesman Maj. Andrew Aranda. The Navy is grounding its larger fleet of C-130Ts until propellers are replaced, with Congress appropriating $121 million to accelerate the work. Officials haven’t directly linked the propellers to the crash, saying only that it was one of the issues identified when planes were inspected afterward.

C-130s have historically been one of the military’s safest aircraft, which is part of what made the crash shocking, said Deneen Hopkins Wiske, a Wisconsin firefighter who is the sister of Gunnery Sgt. Mark Hopkins.

“We were very much lulled into a false sense of security with Mark and what he did,” Wiske said. “These are beasts of the sky, they don’t fail.”

Nate Harris, a Special Operations Command Marine who declined to give his rank, said members of his unit shoot formal pictures now before they go to training, instead of only when they’re shipping out for combat tours.

“It’s really hard to come to grips with something that happened in training,” Harris said. “In combat, that’s what we signed up for.”

Harris is leading the Marine Raider Memorial March, a group of 30 former comrades and widows of members of Marine 2nd Raider Battalion. Teams of marchers will be on the road around the clock through July 27, relaying rucksacks of dirt and sand from the crash site and memorial site over 900 miles to Camp Lejeune. They intend to plant a tree in the soil at Marine Corps Special Operations Command. It’s the second long-distance march by the same organizers. The first one, covering 770 miles came in 2016. It followed a 2015 helicopter crash in Florida that killed seven special operations Marines and four Louisiana National Guard members.

“We need to bring these boys home,” said Harris. “We know it’s the right thing to do to honor them.”

That’s far from the end to memorial efforts.

Ryan Ortiz, a former reservist in the transport unit knew several of the men, but was closest to 26-year-old Sgt. Owen Lennon, a Pomona, New York, crewmaster. He raised more than $20,000 for charity by selling T-shirts memorializing the crash.

“Marines are doers,” Ortiz said.

Nina Baldassare, the mother of crew member Cpl. Danie Baldassare, is moving near Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York — where Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452 is based — and plans to open a cafe.

“I made it my purpose to be part of the community so I could be part of their lives,” Baldassare said.

Wiske plans to run the Marine Corps Marathon this October as a memorial fundraiser for the Wingman Foundation, saying it’s appropriate because her brother was a “notoriously fast” and “effortless” runner.

“I can’t imagine a plane filled with 16 better human beings,” Wiske said. “They remind us of the best we have to offer and they certainly led their lives by getting the most out of every day.”

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Attrition Rate Dropping for Battlefield Airmen with New Prep Course

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New, robust initiatives to bring in highly skilled troops are bringing down the attrition rate among the Air Force‘s elite battlefield airmen, two members of the community told reporters at the Pentagon this week.

The attrition rate for battlefield airmen has declined to roughly 70 percent, said Master Sgt. Robert Gutierrez, superintendent of standards and evaluation at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. While each of the Air Force Specialty Codes varies, the average attrition rate for the community hovered around 80 percent throughout initial selection and training just a few years ago.

“How we’ve come to this point now is through innovation and change,” he said.

Implementing the Battlefield Airmen Preparatory Course in recent months has changed the outlook because “we are making individuals who come from [Basic Military Training] better, faster, stronger and more mentally resilient,” Gutierrez said.

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Both Air Education and Training Command and Air Force Special Operations Command have brought in personal coaches to aid in physical therapy and training techniques, officials said.

Meanwhile AFSOC and the Air Force as a whole are benefiting from new technologies that will help troops navigate increasingly contested battlefield environments.

“We’re going to bring in some more technology shortly,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Thomas Gunnell, a Tactical Air Control Party airman assigned to the 26th Special Tactics Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico. “We have some things right on the precipice that are going to get us right to the point where we’re able to do things at a more denied environment, to get back to that kind of training.”

Gunnell and Gutierrez spoke Wednesday at the Pentagon during a Defense Department-hosted “lethality series.”

“We’re right on the edge where we can take that fight” into a higher threat environment, “with the precision that we need to do it with,” Gunnell said.

The future tech could amplify just how battlefield airmen can and will fit into high-end fights with near-peer adversaries.

While the National Defense Strategy focuses on China and Russia and the re-emergence of great power competition, it also gives the Air Force specific guidance on “retaining irregular warfare [as] a core competency,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told Military.com in May.

Battlefield airmen “have a role to play there; the allies and partners as well,” she said during a trip to Hurlburt Field, Florida.

Special operations acts as a catalyst to “expanding the competitive space; that’s what [Air Force] Special Operations Command does,” she said.

Gunnell said evolving technology has benefited spec ops forces, even in simpler equipment that is in high demand to conduct operations.

For example, airmen calling in airstrikes today are using equipment with vastly improved visuals and information transfer just in video feed compared with what combat controllers or Tactical Air Control Party airmen were using a decade ago.

“Kinetic strikes in which we’re delivering precision munitions … you can look at feeds, and get coordinates and use precision munitions that are delivered right on the exact spot that you want it, at the exact time that you wanted it, and with that, that is the single greatest thing that I have seen in [tandem with] coordination and practice” of training for that mission, Gunnell said.

In addition to battlefield operations — something that has been at the forefront of the AFSOC community’s training since 9/11 — “airfield seizure and austere airfield controller are a major part of the [combat controller’s] mission set,” Gutierrez said.

In the wake of a resurgent Russia — as Moscow continues to dabble in hybrid warfare techniques in eastern Ukraine — airmen have been training to that dynamic battlefront, which actually is “the bread and butter of [that] career field,” he added.

The certified FAA air traffic controllers train to go into hostile environments to “establish assault zones or airfields, while simultaneously conducting air traffic control, fire support, command and control, direct action, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense, humanitarian assistance, and special reconnaissance,” according to the Air Force.

Deploying undetected into an environment, “units can assess, open and control major airfields to clandestine dirt strips in either permissive or hostile locations,” 1st Lt. Jaclyn Pienkowski, spokeswoman for the 24th Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt, told Military.com in May.

“It’s not always seen all the time, but we are consistently training toward that mission set all the time. We will always be prepared for that,” Gutierrez said.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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Pilots ‘Not Making Things Up,’ Air Force Says of ‘Hypoxia’ Incidents

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The Air Force has yet to find the cause for a surge of hypoxia-like incidents in a wide variety of aircraft but has ruled out the possibility that pilots could be mistaking symptoms in some cases.

“We know for a fact what our pilots are experiencing in the airplanes — our pilots are not making things up” when they report incidents, Air Force Lt. Gen. Mark C. Nowland, deputy chief of staff for operations, told Military.com after an aviation safety hearing last month before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness.

In an interview last week, Col. William Mueller, director of the Air Force-Pilot Physicians Program, backed up Nowland on the veracity of pilot reports of hypoxia-like symptoms, including shortness of breath, confusion and wheezing while in aircraft ranging from trainers to the most advanced fighters.

“It’s real stuff; people are not making this up,” said Mueller, a pilot with a medical degree who also serves as career manager for Air Force medical officers who are qualified as pilots and flight surgeons.

Mueller is working with a team of Air Force investigators, in coordination with the Navy and NASA, that is attempting to pinpoint causes for what the Air Force calls Unexplained Physiological Events (UPEs) experienced by pilots.

Air Force officials, in studies and in congressional hearings, have outlined three possibilities: failures in the oxygen delivery system, contaminants in the system, and unusual levels of carbon dioxide.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in April, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said, “We don’t have the smoking gun yet” in the search for a root cause of the incidents, “and we’re not going to stop until we find it.”

Although the cause remains a mystery, Goldfein said the service has gained valuable knowledge since a series of incidents in 2010 involving F-22 Raptors, the most advanced U.S. fighters.

In November 2010, Air Force Capt. Jeff Haney was killed in the crash of his F-22 on a training mission in Alaska. The controversial Air Force investigation found that Haney suffered “severe restricted breathing” during the flight but still ruled that pilot error was the main cause of the crash.

There were 11 other hypoxia-type incidents involving F-22s between 2008 and 2011, according to the Air Force, and much of the concern at the time was with the On-Board Oxygen Generation Systems, or OBOGS. It was developed in the 1980s as a source of limitless oxygen for pilots and a replacement for the canisters of compressed liquid or gaseous oxygen that had been used previously.

The OBOGS was designed to draw air from the plane’s engine compressor before combustion and run it through a series of scrubbers to remove nitrogen.

Although the focus was on the OBOGS in the F-22 investigation, the Air Force later concluded the problem was with a valve controlling the pilot’s pressure vest, which could allow the vest to inflate and restrict the pilot’s ability to breathe.

Since then, the service has worked with engineers, physiologists, contractors and operators of various types of aircraft to get a broader understanding of the problem, Goldfein said at the April hearing.

In examining the F-22 incidents, the Air Force concluded the problem likely was not hypoxia, an oxygen deficiency, but rather hypocapnia, a condition of too little carbon dioxide in the blood that can be caused by hyperventilation, he said.

In addition to hypoxia and hypocapnia, the Air Force also had to be concerned with hypercapnia, an excessive amount of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, Mueller said in the interview with Military.com.

“There are a lot of possible medical explanations,” but none has been pinned down, he said.

Since last year, the Air Force has acknowledged a series of hypoxia-type incidents in aircraft including the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, A-10 Thunderbolt, and T-6 Texan II trainer, and a recurrence in the F-22.

As reported by Military.com’s Oriana Pawlyk, the Air Force in February ordered an indefinite operational pause for all T-6 trainer aircraft following reports of hypoxia-type incidents.

The 19th Air Force, part of the Air Education and Training Command, issued the guidance after a rash of unexplained physiological events reported by pilots at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi; Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma; and Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.

“We’re acting swiftly, making temporary, but necessary, changes to everyone’s training, general awareness, checklist procedures, and [may] possibly modify aircrew flying equipment to mitigate risk to the aircrew while we tackle this issue head-on to safeguard everyone flying T-6s,” Maj. Gen. Patrick Doherty, 19th Air Force commander, said in a release.

The Navy has teamed up with the Air Force to investigate its own hypoxia-type incidents involving the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler and T-45 Goshawk trainers.

At the House subcommittee hearing last month with Nowland, Rear Adm. Roy Kelley, commander of Naval Air Force Atlantic, said:

“More work remains to be done, and this will remain our top safety priority until we fully understand, and have mitigated, all possible PE [physiological episode] causal factors.”

Nowland said aviation mishaps in general should come down now that Congress has boosted defense spending, allowing for more training and flying hours.

“We can’t find a correlation between flying hours and accidents,” he said, “but our gut as aviators tells us — the more you fly and the more you exercise the jets, good things are going to happen out there.”

— Oriana Pawlyk contributed to this report.

— Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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Lawyer: Air Force Vet Suspect in Oklahoma Bombing Denied Medication

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BIXBY, Okla. — The arraignment of a man accused of bombing an Oklahoma military recruiting station has been postponed over concerns he hasn’t received correct medical treatment in custody.

Federal Magistrate Frank McCarthy delayed Benjamin Roden’s arraignment and competency hearing on Wednesday after his attorney said Tulsa County jail officials weren’t following his doctor’s medication orders, the Tulsa World reported.

A pipe bomb exploded July 2017 in front of an unoccupied Air Force recruiting station near Tulsa. Roden, 29, was indicted and determined incompetent to stand trial.

He transferred from federal prison to county jail last month. Jailers were instructed to inject Roden with his medication, but he was jailed for more than a week before being given medication in pill form, according to his attorney Whitney Mauldin.

Rodn has received the required medication in pill form the past three days but needs an injection to maintain the drug’s necessary therapeutic levels, Mauldin said. She said jailers have indicated they don’t routinely keep the medication in the form of an injection.

McCarthy said he “reluctantly” granted a continuance until Aug. 7.

Roden is a former Air Force member who was officially discharged from the Oklahoma Air National Guard in April after joining in 2014. The veteran wanted to quit the Air Force and join the U.S. Marine Corps but the Marines wouldn’t accept him, according to an affidavit. Roden blamed the Air Force for preventing him from being accepted by the Marines, the affidavit said.

He’s being held on two counts of destruction of federal property, malicious damage to federal property by use of explosive and use of explosive to commit a federal felony. McCarthy said Roden faces a lengthy prison term if convicted.

“The way it’s charged, we’re looking at 45 (years),” he said. “At the very minimum it’s 10.”

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Senate Measure Would Open Commissary, Exchange to Disabled Vets, More

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A new Senate proposal would expand military commissary and exchange access to veterans with military-connected disabilities, those who have been awarded Purple Hearts and veteran caregivers, among others. A similar proposal has already been passed by the House.

The fate of the House measure, included in its version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, will be decided in the next several months as lawmakers reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of that legislation.

Currently, only active-duty members and their families; spouses and children of those killed in service; Guard and Reserve members and families; military retirees; 100 percent service-connected disabled veterans; and Medal of Honor recipients may shop at the commissary.

But the House and Senate proposals would expand shopping as well as access to Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) services to veterans awarded a Purple Heart; former prisoners of war; and those with a service-connected disability and their caregiver spouses. It would also expand MWR access to Medal of Honor recipients.

A study completed by the Defense Department late last year concluded that it was financially feasible to open commissary shopping to those new patron categories so long as they were excluded from purchasing alcohol and tobacco products and were charged an additional five percent surcharge.

The results of that study were first reported in the Military Report news column.

All commissary patrons are currently charged a five percent surcharge above the wholesale cost of the merchandise. That surcharge funds the system’s technology and store maintenance.

Neither the House nor Senate proposal includes the new surcharge.

“Expanding access to new patron groups promises to ensure long-term, sustainable access to commissary privilege — consistently ranked one of the most important non-cash compensation benefits among service members,” Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and John Boozman, R-Ark., said in a letter sent to the Senate Armed Services committee and obtained by Stars and Stripes.

— Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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Marines Send More Embassy Guards to Haiti as Riots Turn Deadly

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A squad-sized Marine security detachment has arrived in Haiti to bolster security at the U.S. embassy there as protests over an unpopular fuel price hike turned violent.

Thirteen members of the Marine Security Augmentation Unit are in place at the embassy, a U.S. defense official said. Members of the Quantico, Virginia-based unit are trained Marine security guards who can reinforce U.S. embassies facing threats.

An undisclosed number of non-uniformed security personnel were also dispatched to the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince, the defense official said.

CNN first reported that the Marines ‘presencehad been requested by diplomats on the ground. Members of Marine Security Augmentation Units can respond directly to calls from an ambassador, chief of mission or regional security officer at an embassy in trouble.

A State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the safety and security of Americans are among their highest priorities.

“Local law enforcement and U.S. embassy security authorities will take appropriate measures to safeguard personnel and visitors,” the official said.

The State Departmentissued a notice Monday warning Americans not to travel to Haiti. Widespread civil unrest and violent demonstrations broke out there after Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant announced that gasoline, diesel and kerosene prices would jump by up to 51 percent.

TheAssociated Press reported that three people had been killed Friday as protesters used burning tires and barricades to block major streets. The fuel price hike was suspended on Saturday, but unrest continued.

“On July 9, 2018, the U.S. government authorized the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel and their families,” the State Department warning reads. “Right now, the U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens.”

It’s not immediately clear how long the additional Marine security guards will remain at the embassy.

Members of the Marine Security Augmentation Unit were also sent to several American diplomatic facilities in the Middle East following President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. They were also dispatched to the U.S. embassy in Paris in 2015 following the coordinated terror attack carried out there by the Islamic State.

–Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com.Follow her on Twitter at@ginaaharkins.

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AF Cross Recipient: ‘Remarkable’ Fellow Airman Up for Medal of Honor

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Air Force Master Sgt. Robert Gutierrez isn’t worried about the discord surrounding his Air Force Cross award.

“I’m more thankful to be alive actually than anything else,” he told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday. Gutierrez was speaking at the Defense Department’s “lethality series,” which this week showcased the evolution of battlefield airmen.

Over the years, Gutierrez, a combat controller qualified as a special operations operator, combat diver and parachute jumper, among other specialties, has gotten questions about his 2011 Air Force Cross award, which some experts argue should be a Medal of Honor.

Then-Staff Sgt. Gutierrez was part of an U.S. Army Special Forces and Afghan National Army commando team in Herat province, Afghanistan, when Taliban fighters closed in on Oct. 5, 2009.

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During the four-hour firefight, Gutierrez was shot, suffering a “gunshot wound to the upper shoulder and triceps muscle, left chest and lateral muscle that resulted in two broken ribs, a broken scapula, softball-sized hole in his back, and [a] collapsed lung,” according to an Air Force release.

But because he needed his radio, Gutierrez refused to take off his body armor to be treated by medics, instead allowing the medic only to relieve the chest cavity of blood once in a while. He would take in enough air to call in danger-close strikes from F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt II close-air support aircraft.

Only 10 Air Force Crosses and 44 Silver Stars have been awarded to airmen in the Global War on Terrorism.

“We are very fortunate to even have someone who’s already up for the Medal of Honor, John Chapman — huge deal for us,” Gutierrez said, referring to Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, the combat controller attached to SEAL Team 6 during Operation Anaconda.

Chapman died during the mission in Afghanistan in 2002. It has been reported that Chapman, who was believed to be dead, lived for more than an hour after the SEAL team left.

The Air Force has not publicly commented on speculation that Chapman — who received the Air Force Cross for his actions — will have his award elevated. The Office of the Secretary of Defense reportedly has recommended his award be upgraded to the Medal of Honor, but there has been no word from the White House.

Chapman would be the first airman to receive the award since the Vietnam War.

“It’s remarkable,” Gutierrez said, adding that he was very fortunate to have fought alongside a service member who did receive a Medal of Honor for his actions, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Miller.

“I was there for [Miller] for operational detachment 3312 in Afghanistan, so when people ask that question [about an award], for me, when you witness it and you see it, it is very difficult to measure yourself against someone’s actions that are so brave that they would sacrifice themselves for everyone to get the mission done,” he said.

Miller was leading a team of Afghan and coalition security forces in Kunar Province during a night raid on Jan. 25, 2008, when the team was ambushed by enemy fighters. During the firefight, Miller stayed at the front of the parol returning fire, signaling to his team to break off to save his teammates. He died during the mission.

“How do you measure up to actions so great?” Gutierrez said. “I’ve seen it in real life, and you’re in such awe and thankful for individuals like that.”

Gutierrez told reporters Wednesday that his experience has shaped his latest role as the superintendent of standards and evaluation at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland overseeing training for more than 1,100 students, instructors and support staff.

“Are we training them effectively? Am I giving them everything they need to prepare them to go to war? Have I made them strong enough, fast enough, and resilient enough to sustain a continuous warfighting effort?” he pondered.

“All my guys that I go to work with, every single operator that I work with, they all do the same thing,” Gutierrez continued. “To me, honestly, it’s not that big of a deal because we’re just doing our job. We are literally going to work, and there’s more prestige and more honor and more value to go to war with individuals that I got to go to war with and serve my country.

“Awards are awards. What I value more is serving my country,” he said.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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Marines Fuel Coast Guard Mission

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U.S. Marines and Coast Guardsmen conducted the first forward air-refueling point between two helicopters during the 2018 Marine Aircraft Group 49 Combined Arms Exercise, June 14.

The Norfolk, Virginia Marine Medium Tilt Roader Squadron (VMM) 774 refueled a Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin from the Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, New Jersey with a Marine Corps V-22 Osprey for the first time ever, showcasing the range and capabilities of both services.

A forward air-refueling point is a refueling operation performed by two aircraft on the ground when air-to-air refueling is not possible.

Marine Corps Sgt. Christopher Stewart, VMM-774 V-22 crew chief said the importance of setting up this new forward air-refueling point is to be able to work jointly with sister services to keep the mission flowing, blurring the differences between each by intertwining their standard operating procedures.

“There’s a lot of planning that goes into fueling a new aircraft for the first time,” said Marine Corps Sgt. Robert Parkes, VMM-774 V-22 crew chief. “We are having to talk to the Coast Guard to figure out how they want to do things while working around our standard operating procedures and basically trying to figure out the best way to work together to achieve the results that we need.”

This type of refueling could increase the range of aircraft – increasing warfighting capabilities, said Parkes.

Training in a joint exercise gives each branch opportunities to understand how to work together for future endeavors, an opportunity the MCAX gives to service members.

“We have to make sure our fuel points match their fuel points and make sure they understand the way we safely operate and understand, ourselves, how they operate,” said Stewart. “There may be some different ways they do things that we need to know and vice versa.”

The refueling was safely and successfully completed in less than an hour with the Marines and Coast Guard working together as a team to accomplish the mission at hand.

“We will be working together a lot more in the future so it’s important for all the services to get training together,” said Parkes. “The refueling was a great opportunity for training to see how each other operates and be cordially familiar with each other when we work together next time.”

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