MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Two airmen here have received military decorations for achievements downrange this year.

Capt. Seward Matwick, 28, an F-16 pilot with the 14th Fighter Squadron earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for his role in a combat mission over Iraq in February.

A Bronze Star went to Chief Master Sgt. Brett Allison, 47, for his contributions while deployed for nearly five months to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Matwick’s air action came on a day that started out ordinary.

He and his wingman, Capt. Brent Ritzke, also of the 14th Fighter Squadron, were called on to provide surveillance south of Baghdad, where “a high-powered meeting” was going down.

The coalition unit they were supporting was suddenly ambushed, Matwick said.

“It turned violent pretty quickly,” he recounted.

Working with a Joint Terminal Air Controller on the ground, Matwick and Ritzke dropped two bombs and made three strafing passes.

“Not only were the troops not overrun, they were able to go into the village and take the offensive and see what was being protected,” Matwick said.

Coalition forces found a large weapons cache and militants in hiding.

Matwick said the close air-support mission was “very difficult, very intense.”

The pilots were flying “right underneath the weather, which really highlighted us,” he said, putting them at risk of ground-to-air fire.

Boredom and excitement

It was a day of contrasts. One moment, it was “extreme boredom,” the next it was “extreme excitement,” Matwick said. “I wasn’t expecting anything in particular and then ‘bam,’ we were called on to do what we train for.”

Receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievement in aerial combat, was humbling, Matwick said.

“I think of war heroes ... of the Tuskegee Airmen, who were flying over World War II,” he said. “Brent and I were at the right place at the right time, and we did the right job. It’s not many missions where so obviously American lives hang in the balance, so that’s what added to this pressure.”

Though his wingman didn’t receive the medal, Matwick said he and support personnel were critical to getting the job done.

“It was a team effort,” he said. “I got the reward, but the bombs came off well, the guns fired correctly ... everything worked as advertised.”

Teaching and tending

While Matwick’s heroics came in a short, intense burst, Allison’s Bronze Star was earned over the long haul of five months spent in Afghanistan as the first chief enlisted manager in the Combined Security Assistance Command-Afghanistan.

Planning to retire next year, Allison volunteered in December for a short-notice deployment — his last of many over a 30-year career. He got the call the Friday before Christmas and was on the plane to Kabul on Jan. 10.

Working for the 755th Expeditionary Support Squadron, Allison helped oversee more than 380 airmen augmenting the Army. The airmen mentored Afghan National Army training commands and fanned out across Afghanistan in brigade support teams with the U.S. Army.

Allison had to ensure the airmen were being used effectively and had their needs taken care of in more than 30 locations, he said.

The chief, who at Misawa is the 35th Operations Group superintendent, also provided one-on-one leadership, logistics and professional military education training to senior Afghan National Army officers and senior noncommissioned officers.

“They’re trying to develop a professional enlisted corps,” Allison said of the Afghan army.

One of the challenges, he said, was helping them set up processes, standards and improvements that work for them in the context of their culture.

“You can’t change 1,000 years worth of culture overnight,” he said.

The mission, with its requirements to travel outside the wire often, was risky. As noted in his citation, Allison “led well over 40 convoy missions over IED laden roads (and) ensured support and care for Airmen at 32 sites across Afghanistan.”

Several soldiers with the command were killed while Allison was in Afghanistan, including an Army colonel.

“A lot of people did longer time in the (area of responsibility) who didn’t get a Bronze Star,” Allison said. “There were also those who were awarded it posthumously. The fact that someone felt strong enough to write it up and submit it, is very humbling.”

It was Allison’s first Bronze Star. The award is given for heroic or meritorious achievement or service in connection with military operations against an armed enemy.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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