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LANDSTUHL, Germany — Members of the Disaster Mortuary Affairs Response Team have teetered on mountain ledges to investigate aircraft crash sites and dodged booby traps to search for the personal effects of fallen comrades.

Seven soldiers and airmen from the team were awarded the Bronze Star Medal on Monday for their “heroic and meritorious achievements” between January and June 2002.

The team, part of the 21st Theater Support Command in Germany, investigates accidents and criminal matters in the U.S. European Command and the U.S. Central Command areas of responsibility.

The team makes sure that the remains of fallen Americans are recovered and positively identified so they can be returned to their family members.

January 2002 found the team picking through the ashen skeleton of a KC-130 that crashed near Shamsi, Pakistan, killing seven U.S. Marines. Later that year, the team investigated the American bombing that killed four Canadians in Afghanistan. After that, it deployed to investigate an -130 crash in central Afghanistan.

The team is headed by Lt. Col. Kathleen Ingwersen, the armed forces regional medical commander, and it must be ready to deploy with as little as six hours’ notice.

In a ceremony at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, five team members received the Bronze Star. Two other team members who since have changed stations also will receive the medal.

Along with Ingwersen, who is a forensic pathologist, those earning the medal are:

Army Sgt. 1st Class Konrad Murak, noncommissioned officer in charge of search and recovery.Air Force Master Sgt. John Snow, forensic photographer.Air Force Staff Sgt. Edward Holzapfel, forensic photographer.Air Force Staff Sgt. Chad Parsells, forensic assistant.Army Col. Jim Duke, forensic dentist.Army Spec. Jorge Santiago, search and recovery specialist.Brig. Gen. Erwin R. Lessel, commander of the 86th Airlift Wing, pinned the medals on the three Air Force members.

“Many of us only dream about the circumstances under which we might earn such an award,” Lessel said. “The team dealt with incredible difficulties and had a very challenging mission.”

Holzapfel, a forensic photographer from Ramstein’s 786th Communication Squadron in Germany, said he was overwhelmed by the honor but also grateful to his teammates, a tight-knit group whose members often deal with great adversity to complete their jobs.

“Everyone on the team has a real sense of duty,” Holzapfel said after the ceremony. “The DMART’s job is to make sure we don’t leave anybody behind, ever.”

The Pentagon regulation on awarding Bronze Stars says the medals can be given to a military member who “distinguishes himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service” under any of three circumstances:


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