Air Force awards medal upgrades
By TARA COPP | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 19, 2017
MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, ALABAMA. — Air Force Col. Christopher Barnett was awarded two Silver Stars on Thursday for his gallantry in action during two search and rescue missions in Afghanistan in 2009.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, who departs the service’s top civilian post Thursday as part of the transition to President-elect Donald Trump’s administration, used her last hours in office to travel to Maxwell Air Force Base to honor Barnett and announce an additional seven servicemembers whose previous medals were upgraded.
“There’s nowhere I’d rather be on my last day” as Air Force secretary, James told a packed audience at the air force base, where Barnett and his family had gathered for the ceremony.
The medal upgrades are part of a Defense Department review of all Silver Stars and service crosses awarded since 2001 to determine whether servicemembers had been properly recognized for their actions in the last 15 years of fighting in the war on terror.
Barnett was flight leader of a two-ship HH-60G Pave Hawk combat search and rescue mission on April 4, 2009 in Kajaki, Afghanistan, when he led the helicopters “through firefights and a blinding sandstorm in near zero visibility” and executed one casualty evacuation when “he received word of a Special Forces convoy under attack by a large enemy force,” according to the Silver Star citation.
Barnett led the helicopters to the convoy, “where the arrival of two heavily armed helicopters caused the enemy to instantly break contact and retreat.”
Soon after, a second Special Forces team made contact with Barnett, reporting they were “pinned down by heavy machine gun fire under attack from three locations and in danger of being overrun.”
Barnett closed in, getting just 20 meters from the enemy forces and destroyed one of their machine gun positions, according to the citation.
“Col. Barnett’s heroic actions this day saved the lives of one Afghan National Army and 40 Special Forces soldiers,” the Silver Star citation read.
A few weeks later, on May 19, Barnett performed another rescue mission under danger when he flew into a Taliban-controlled area in Marjah, Afghanistan, to rescue injured soldiers. Three times he went into enemy fire, the third after his wingman had suffered a “catastrophic emergency,” according to the citation for his second Silver Star.
“Col. Barnett executed multiple attack dry runs, covering his wingman’s landing, when a mortar salvo detonated directly beneath his aircraft, nearly knocking it out of the air,” the citation read.
The Air Force reviewed 147 medals awarded for action in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, including 12 Air Force Crosses and 135 Silver Stars. The Air Force Cross is given for extraordinary heroism while engaged in military operations against an opposing foreign force. It is the highest Air Force award, second only to the Medal of Honor. The Silver Star medal is the third highest decoration for valor in combat and is typically awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy.
The Air Force on Thursday also announced the names and medals of additional upgrades.
Former Staff Sgt. Christopher Baradat and retired Master Sgt. Keary Miller each had a Silver Star upgraded to an Air Force Cross.
Col. Christopher Barnett had two Distinguished Flying Crosses with Valor for two separate acts upgraded to Silver Stars. Retired Lt. Col. Gregory Thornton had a Distinguished Flying Cross upgraded to a Silver Star. Retired Lt. Col. Alan Botine had a Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor upgraded to a Silver Star. Retired Master Sgt. Kristopher Parker had a Bronze Star with Valor upgraded to a Silver Star.
Retired Col. David Kennedy and Lt. Col. James Holder each had a Distinguished Flying Cross upgraded to a Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor. Kennedy’s award was upgraded posthumously.