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NY Air Guardsmen Recognized for Dramatic Rescue Mission

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kevin Donaldson

Their mission was to provide emergency care for two sailors on the Slovenian bulk carrier Tamar who had been badly burned in an explosion.

On June 4, 2022, the two combat rescue officers and five pararescuemen from the wing’s 103rd Rescue Squadron, who jumped that night, were awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal for heroism for their actions during a ceremony at F.S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach.

The Air Force Commendation Medal recognizes Airmen who distinguish themselves through heroism, meritorious achievement and service.

Combat rescue officers Lt. Col. Edward Boughal and Maj. Marty Viera; were honored along with pararescuemen Master Sgt. Jordan St. Clair; Senior Master Sgt. Erik Blom; Master Sgt. Jedediah Smith; and Staff Sgt. Michael Hartman.

Master Sgt. Bryan Dalere was also honored but was not present because he is currently assigned to the Alaska Air National Guard.

Col. Jeffrey Cannet, the commander of the 106th Operations Group, who piloted the HC-130 search and rescue aircraft, on the mission, praised those who jumped into the ocean that night.

“The amount of complexity in that mission, just can’t be overstated,” Cannet said.

“The fact that these guys had to do that, all out there, alone and unafraid, getting it done, was just a testament to their skill and ability,” he said.

Just the facts of the mission show how incredibly demanding it was, Cannet said.

"I remember getting the call that a 625-foot vessel traveling from Baltimore to Gibraltar had an explosion 1,700 miles off the east coast of New York,” Cannet said. “Four seamen were critically injured and required immediate medical care.”

The Coast Guard thought the mission was too dangerous but Col. Andrew Wineberger, then the 106th Operations Group commander, maintained that the wing was capable and ready to execute the mission, Cannet said.

The 106th could not formally be tasked with the Tamar rescue since it was a civil search and rescue mission, he said. However, all of the Airmen involved volunteered to go on the flight.

Before they could take off, the team needed to gather medical and surgical equipment from local hospitals, Cannet remembered.

Then, aircraft maintenance issues threatened to end the mission shortly after takeoff, but the flight engineers mitigated the problem, Cannet said.

The nighttime jump into the Atlantic required dropping equipment bundles on target, along with two inflatable Zodiac boats, he explained.

Once in the water the pararescue team had to climb into the Zodiacs, retrieve the floating supplies, head to the ship, and then finally board the Tamar on a rope ladder while 15-foot waves tossed the boat up and down, Cannet said.

Every aspect of the mission presented unique challenges, said pararescuemen, Master Sgt. Jordan St. Clair, who was the team leader for the mission.

Along with the distance and the jump, once on board the 106th Airmen had to conduct and emergency surgery, provide medical care for three days as the ship approached the Azores, and then ensure the victims were safely airlifted onto a Portuguese helicopter, St. Clair said.

"We were able to make a difference in the lives of two men," St. Clair said. "Those two men are alive and enjoying life today because of our ability to provide a capability that very few organizations can."

Boughal, said that unusual mission was a perfect example of the wisdom his pararescue instructor had passed along to him: “Someday, when somebody is having their worst day, you better have your best day.”

Cannet, Boughal, and St. Clair all credited Lt. Col. Stephen “Doc” Rush, the 106th Medical Group commander, and 103rd Rescue Squadron wing flight surgeon, for having such a huge impact on the medical capabilities of the entire pararescue career field, preparing the team to be the elite medical professionals they proved to be on this mission.

St. Clair also credited the Airmen’s families for supporting them during the long days and nights of training and deployments.

“Thanks to our loved ones that endure these missions alongside us,” St. Clair said.

The Tamar rescue mission, Boughal told the audience, is a testament to the professionalism and dedication of the men and women of the 106th Rescue Wing and its legacy of commitment to the pararescue creed “…that others may live.”

"Today, we honor these incredible men for putting it all on the line to save lives," Boughal said.