RENO, Nev. - More than a decade after participating in a battle in Afghanistan that included small arms fire, machine gun fire and mortar attacks, eight Nevada Air Guard members received long-awaited Air Force Combat Action Medals at the Nevada Air National Guard Base here on Dec. 5.
The eight Airmen helped fend off an attack on Bagram Airfield on Feb. 22, 2002. All of the Airmen were with the 152nd Security Forces Squadron at the time of the incident.
According to the 152nd Force Support Squadron, the eight are the only Nevada Guard Airmen to receive Combat Action Medals during the ongoing Global War on Terrorism. The Air Force Combat Action Medal was first awarded in 2007 and may be awarded for combat actions dating back to Sept. 11, 2001. The award is reserved for Airmen who have physically engaged hostile forces with direct and lethal fire.
The Airmen received their medals from Nevada Adjutant General Brig. Gen. Bill Burks. Sen. Harry Reid also attended the ceremony. Reid's office had helped the Airmen receive their medals after bureaucratic delays.
Airmen receiving Combat Action Medals were: Senior Master Sgt. Michael Del Soldato of Sparks, Nev.; retired Master Sgt. John Blevins of Reno; Capt. Lawrence Chappell of Pleasanton, Calif., Master Sgt. Clinton Dudley of Incline Village, Nev., retired Chief Master Sgt. Todd Shipley of Reno, Master Sgt. Harry Wheeler of Carson City, Nev., Master Sgt. David McNeely of Reno, and retired Master Sgt. Jerry Miller of Reno.
Blevins said the battle occurred just as an aircraft prepared for takeoff.
"It was a firefight around an aircraft we were trying to get off the ground before it was hit," Blevins said. "My team was working air flight operations and we started receiving tracer fire from the mountains and it turned into a firefight."
Del Soldato, currently deployed, and Chappell were the only medal recipients not present.
Shipley said Del Soldato had spearheaded the effort for the Airmen to receive their medals.
"The award of the Air Force Combat Action Medal didn't come easily for a Guard unit," Shipley said to a Reno newspaper. "(Del Soldato) was the one who contacted Sen. Reid's office and engaged them. Because of the perseverance by someone who is not here because he is deployed, this happened."
Reid noted the Airmen were threatened with thousands of rounds of ammunition from the surrounding mountains aimed toward the base.
"Ladies and gentlemen, they are the heroes that make it safe for my children and grandchildren and America in general," Reid said. "These battles don't come very often but when they come, they have to be prepared and these heroes have honored Nevada and our country."