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Western Pa. servicemembers honored for heroism

Army Chief Warrant Officer Corey Kaczmarek appreciated the honor he received on Saturday, but he was thinking more of others.

He recalled his fallen and injured comrades in Afghanistan and the families who remained behind.

Kaczmarek, 37, of Southwest Greensburg received an Army Air Medal, awarded for acts of heroism during military operations at a Freedom Salute held by the Pennsylvania Army National Guard at John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria Airport. About 300 members of the 1-104th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 28th Combat Aviation Brigade were honored.

“It's important for the soldiers, but it's really important for the families,” Kaczmarek said. “The families make a lot of sacrifices.”

Kaczmarek flew 497 hours in an Apache helicopter, mostly supporting ground troops from December 2012 to August 2013 in the Kunar Valley in Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan.

His helicopter often came under attack, he said.

“When you're being shot at, it's all adrenaline going through you, but that's what we do,” he said.

His 7-year-old son, Caden, who attended the ceremony, said he was proud of his father but glad to have him home.

The boy beamed as he held his father's medal.

Others who attended the ceremony supported pilots such as Kaczmarek by doing maintenance work on helicopters.

“It was a real learning experience,” said Spc. Katelyn Dick, 23, of Greensburg, who did maintenance work on helicopters in Mazar-e-Sharif. “I learned how to interact with different cultures, that's the biggest thing.”

Those who did maintenance had little down time, Dick said. She worked under a tent lacking air-conditioning.

“It got up to 140 degrees,” she said.

Specialist Nathan Dubich, 28, of Sewickley Township said he appreciated the ceremony.

“It's nice to have the community's support, nice for everyone who did their part,” said Dubich, who was a helicopter maintenance specialist.

“A lot of flight hours were put on the helicopters, so we had a lot of work to do,” he said.

Sgt. Ryan Gradler of Mt. Pleasant, who oversaw helicopter maintenance work, said his time in Afghanistan brought something new daily.

“It was a life experience I'm proud to say I did,” Gradler said.

He said soldiers appreciated the ceremony.

“I thinks it's great. It's really nice for the families to come up and get the recognition,” Gradler said.

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