Alaska National Guardsmen receive Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor

CAMP DENALI, Alaska -- Three Alaska Air National Guardsmen with the 212th Rescue Squadron were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Nov. 3 during a ceremony at the Talkeetna Theater on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Senior Master Sgt. Christopher "Doug" Widener, Master Sgt. Brandon Stuemke and Staff Sgt. Aaron Parcha received the medals for having distinguished themselves in combat
by "heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight."

"During the span of five days, these warriors, these pararescuemen, flew 25 missions retrieving a total of 49 U.S. and coalition personnel, with 11 of those personnel deceased," said Maj. Joe Conroy, 212th Rescue Squadron commander, Alaska Air National Guard. "Nineteen of the personnel they retrieved were rescued by conducting a hoist insertion and extraction, often under heavy fire from the enemy."

Conducting actions in the face of extreme danger, these pararescuemen supported missions during Operation Bulldog Bite in November 2010, an operation that involved some of the largest rescues and evacuations since Operation Anaconda in 2002.

"These brave and courageous warriors exited an HH-60 helicopter while in-flight, by a cable hoist system under extreme and intense circumstances to recover fellow combatants wounded during ground combat operations with the enemy," Conroy said. "Their direct actions led to lives saved and those Soldiers have now returned to duty and back to their loved ones."

While the ceremony recognized the actions of these three heroic pararescuemen, Conroy also asked people in attendance to honor the Soldiers who perished during Operation Bulldog Bite. Sentiments echoed by Distinguished Flying Cross recipient, Master Sgt. Brandon Stuemke.

"It's so much more than just a medal," Stuemke said. "Yes, it's the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor, but it goes way beyond that. It goes to what it represents. It goes to the men out there in the Watapur Valley that sacrificed their lives. It goes to the men out there in the Watapur Valley that we pulled off the hill during that week. It's so much more than just a medal. Numerous individuals that week paid the ultimate sacrifice. Those are the guys. Those are wounds that I will carry with me internally for the rest of my life. Those are faces that I will never forget."
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