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Heroes Surrounded by Heroes

  • Published
  • By Capt. Shane Hill
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing
Unassuming, modest, responsive. These are the words that describe two Airmen who answered the call to be members of the U.S. Air Force Guardian Angel mission.

Staff Sgt. Bradley Menefee and Staff Sgt. Erik Dahl, 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron pararescue technical rescue specialists, were recently awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor. 

“It’s an honor,” said Menefee. “But the biggest reason I do this is for the others… I know anyone on the team would do it for each other.”

In early March, Menefee  was on patrol with a combined joint special operations task force team operating in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan. One of his team members stepped on and activated a pressure plate attached to an improvised explosive device approximately twenty yards from him . The device exploded injuring his team member, and ultimately triggering an ambush.

The team was subjected to a coordinated attack by Islamic State-Khorasan fighters.  According to the award citation, Menefee immediately rushed through small arms and heavy machine gun fire from four different locations in order to aid four injured Coalition members, including his injured team member. 

Lt. Col. Ryan Pearce, 83rd ERS commander, discusses the distinction of being awarded this medal and emphasized the duty of those who are assigned to the Guardian Angel mission.

“What they do is work for others and respond when someone has had their worst day,” Pearce said. “We are grateful that they are there to help solve the problem and mitigate risks to the joint forces.”

Problem solving and risk management are an assurance of the Guardian Angel mission. Airmen involved in the mission are combat rescue officers, pararescuemen, survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialists and uniquely trained support personnel dedicated to the Air Force core function of personnel recovery. These specialists are dedicated to conducting personnel recovery across the full range of military operations and during all phases of joint, coalition, and combined operations.

According to Pearce, Menefee was not the only Airman who demonstrated the capabilities of those involved in the mission. Pearce described how Staff Sgt. Erik Dahl, 83rd ERS pararescue technical rescue specialist, engaged in a separate military operation against opposing forces in early March, where Dahl also earned the Bronze Star Medal with Valor.

Dahl was assigned to a combined joint special operations task force operating in the Kunduz Province of Afghanistan. While on assignment, a vehicle in the convoy became temporarily disabled. A few members of the team dismounted their vehicle to assist, and then Taliban fighters conducted a coordinated ambush on their position. 

Dahl dismounted the protection of his vehicle, and immediately returned fire against enemy positions. He rushed forty meters through machine gun and small arms fire, impacting within feet of his position, to reach his wounded team members. Dahl immediately treated a critically wounded soldier, and shielded him with his own body.

As stated in this award citation, Dahl, with complete disregard for his own safety, rushed back through the barrage of enemy fire to reach the second wounded soldier. Finally, he helped carry the injured through sustained enemy fire to the medical evacuation site.

Pearce described how both men’s valor came from training and timing.

“Rescue is about right place, right time, and right posture of layered personnel recovery capabilities to enable our joint force partners and mitigate risk,” Pearce said.

Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, U.S. Air Forces Central Command commander, visited the 83rd ERS in April at Bagram Air Field. In a low key ceremony that matched the modesty of the man who showed stoic responsiveness in his actions, Menefee was awarded the citation in quiet fashion. Menefee described his appreciation for the setting and response.

“We got back from dinner after a mission rehearsal and they called all of us out to the morale fire pit and surprised us,” Menefee said. “At first, I was not aware of what was going on. Standing at parade rest with our hands behind our back, I then realized… The setting for the ceremony was perfect for my personality and I was very grateful.”