Citations reveal stories of heroism in Kosovo
Not all of the Bronze Star medals awarded to Navy and Air Force personnel during last year’s air campaign against Yugoslavia were out of harm’s way.
Far from it.
In fact, some of the citations read like a Tom Clancy thriller offering intriguing insights into untold stories of the war.
In Albania, for example, Air Force civilian Special Agent Kenneth J. Falk was working for the Joint Counterintelligence Office at Rinas Airport, which served as home to thousands of Army and Air Force personnel during the conflict.
Falk “spearheaded surveillance detection operations” against terrorists and “other hostile forces,” according to his Bronze Star citation.
“In one specific incident, he gathered critical data indicating the imminent assassination attempt of a senior U.S. official, then facilitated the move of that official into protective custody, ensuring 24-hour a day protective coverage.”
Among the 185 Bronze Stars awarded to Air Force troops, four were awarded with the “V” (for valor) Device, to members of search and rescue teams who flew into Serbia through hellstorms of gunfire and missiles to rescue downed aviators.
Staff Sgt. Andrew D. Kubik was one of them.
“An integral part of a three-ship special operations rescue package, Sgt. Kubik was responsible for security at the objective, ground-to-air communications, and terminal attack control of close-air support aircraft,” reads the citation.
Enroute to a downed F-16CJ pilot, the team narrowly evaded two SA-6 missiles and one SA-9 missile.
“Pressing deeper into Serbia, his flight evaded several anti-aircraft barrages and was struck and damaged by small arms fire just before reaching the survivor.”
As the aircraft touched down, Kubic “was the first to exit the helicopter into enemy territory” as the team recovered the pilot.
“When the night erupted into small arms fire, the rescue team swiftly returned to the MH-60G and flew to safety.”
Five sailors also were recognized for their heroism, earning the "V" Device as well. Among them was Petty Officer 1st Class Floyd Riggs, who as an explosives expert was responsible for clearing mines and bombs as NATO peacekeepers first rolled into Kosovo.
“Entering war-torn Kosovo, Petty Officer Riggs faced danger with every footstep while proceeding through a region strewn with unexploded ordnance and potential booby traps,” reads his citation.
“Disregarding his own safety, Riggs responded to a reported explosion and cleared a safe path into an active minefield to aid medical personnel in the recovery of an injured farmer,” along the way clearing 32 dangerous cluster bombs.
At sea, Navy Capt. David R. Bryant garnered the Bronze Star as skipper of the aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt.
"Actions conducted under his command comprised the longest period of sustained carrier based strike operations since the Vietnam War," reads his citation.
Bryant was directly responsible for supporting more than 3,000 combat sorties “while providing 30 percent of the precision weaponry used to bring this conflict to a successful conclusion.”
Although aviators cannot receive the Bronze Star for what they do in the air —there are Air Medals for that —they can get it for their efforts on the ground. Most of those awards went to squadron and other unit commanders for training and managing their pilots so well, but one aviator got a Bronze Star for his “meritorious achievement” after ejecting from his F-117 Stealth bomber.
Shortly after Lt. Col. Darrell P. Zelko had delivered a “direct hit on a vital node in the Serbian integrated air defense network, (he) experienced a severe aircraft malfunction, forcing him to eject over hostile territory.”
Dangling from his parachute, Zelko called in his rescue by radio as he floated into the hornet’s nest below.
“On the ground, Col. Zelko’s exceptional knowledge, outstanding skill, and raw courage enabled him to evade capture as Serbia forces moved ever closer.”
In the end, Zelko “positioned himself perfectly and expertly guided rescue forces to a successful pick-up.”
The Bronze Star investigation
Read more about Stripes’ special investigation into the awarding of Bronze Stars in Kosovo in 1999, which resulted in a Pentagon review and a decision by Congress to stop the awarding of Bronze Stars to personnel outside the combat zone.