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Defense Secretary Lauds Airmen’s Contributions, Service

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2009 – Airmen around the world are making a life-and-death difference for U.S. military ground forces, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

The secretary praised airmen’s efforts and their sacrifices while addressing an audience at the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Convention.

“First, a word of thanks to the men and women whose achievements we cherish and whose interests you represent,” Gates said. “Since 9/11, hundreds of thousands of airmen have gone about their duties -- usually unheralded and unrecognized by the usual metric of medals and media coverage.

“More than 100 have made the supreme sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he added.

Gates highlighted airmen’s accomplishments, from reconnaissance groups to weapons squadrons.

“As a result of airmen’s efforts, dangerous men looking to attack our troops and harm our country have met their just end, usually without a warning: a distant buzz followed by a bolt from the sky,” Gates said. “Some of those strikes may have come from the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron -- the ‘Flying Tigers.’”

The Flying Tigers deployed to Afghanistan from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., seven months ago. Since arriving, they’ve completed more than 2,800 combat missions spanning 12,000 flight hours of reconnaissance and close-air support, a record for the historic unit, Gates said.

Gates noted the actions of an Arizona National Guard unit as well.

“Our enemies have also been under the unblinking eye and precision fire of the 214th Reconnaissance Group of the Arizona National Guard,” Gates said. “[The group] recently received the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award from [Air Force] Secretary [Michael B.] Donley after its Predators logged more than 17,000 hours over Afghanistan and Iraq.”

On a visit to Afghanistan in May, Gates met with search and rescue aircrews from the 34th Weapons Squadron and 38th Rescue Squadron, which are supporting Marines in Helmand province. In a three-month stretch in the spring, pararescue airmen from the 34th recovered or treated more than 320 casualties, both military and civilian, he said.

“Then there was the crew of Shocker 21 of the 305th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron based in Kandahar,” Gates said. “They were called in after an American Special Forces team and Afghan soldiers came under heavy attack.

“In four successive passes over a hot landing zone, Shocker 21 picked up two groups of wounded troops, laid down suppressive fire and delivered badly needed ammunition,” he continued. “All told, the expertise and courage of the Air Force search and rescue teams are making the goal of the ‘golden hour’ a reality in Afghanistan.”

The golden hour refers to roughly the first 60 minutes following a trauma. The chance of survival is greatest if the needed treatment is obtained within that window.

The secretary didn’t forget the airmen serving on the ground in theater, either, drawing on one airman’s experience as an example of the difference they’re making in the war.

“Take the example of Tech Sergeant Benjamin Horton, from Hill Air Force Base in Utah,” Gates said. “Sergeant Horton destroyed more than 7 tons of enemy explosives while deployed to Iraq in the hair-raising vocation of [explosives ordnance disposal] technician.

“His expertise with the tactics of enemy bombers led to the capture of six bomb makers in the Kirkuk region,” he continued. “In one instance, he pulled four injured soldiers from a vehicle after a [roadside bomb] attack, and then cleared the extraction zone to medevac the wounded, earning a Bronze Star for his efforts.”

Then there are the C-17 and C-5 transport jet crews that fly thousands of tons of goods a day in and out of theater, he said, and the maintenance personnel who keep the planes flying.

“Without these efforts and the exertions of tens of thousands of airmen including engineers, security forces, medical personnel, explosive ordnance disposal experts, and those protecting our lines of communication in space and cyberspace, the entire U.S. war effort would simply grind to a halt,” Gates said

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