Like most heroes in the U.S. military, Air Force Master Sgt Jason R. Blettenberg credits his team.
“They were spot-on that day,” said Blettenberg, a Pararescue Team Member of the 66th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron.
That day was July 6, 2010. The call came in for an urgent casualty evacuation in the Char Anje Triangle, an insurgent stronghold in Afghanistan, where a squad of British soldiers were bloodied and pinned down. They had triggered multiple anti-personnel mines, and one of the soldiers was missing both legs.
Blettenberg volunteered to go. He would be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with “V” for valor for his efforts.
He was lowered 50 feet down among high walls and trees, right above the injured soldier.
When he reached the ground — an active minefield — his training kicked in.
“It’s a matter of focusing on the immediate but being alert to the changing factors,” Blettenberg said.
The immediate was the catastrophic, life-threatening wounds of the British soldier who had lost his lower limbs and was quickly losing blood. Blettenberg stabilized him, then stayed behind while the soldier and his teammate were lifted into the helicopter.
Blettenberg, now isolated on the ground, cautiously navigated the minefield to assist another soldier who had been separated from his team.
The mines could have been triggered at any moment. Pressure-plated IEDs and radio-signaled explosions were common in the area.
Undeterred, Blettenberg made his way to the soldier and ascended with him into the helicopter. When it was time, he volunteered to be lowered down with the soldier to reunite him with his team.
Throughout the mission, Blettenberg’s demeanor never changed. Even as a rocket-propelled grenade exploded just 50 meters from the helicopter, he remained calm and took the lead in making sure everyone in the cabin was secure.
Blettenberg saved the lives of those two soldiers that day. But again, he credits his team.
“The success of any mission is measured by the effectiveness of all involved,” he said.
“Of course it’s an honor to receive the medal but, more importantly, it is a privilege to share the success of that mission with those who made it possible.”
He plans to share the success of that mission, and the story behind the medal, with his son.
“I look forward to the day when my son is old enough to understand what it is, and what it stands for,” Blettenberg said. “Then I will have the opportunity to teach him more about caring for others, doing what is right and relying on those he can trust.
“Until then, it will stay in a drawer,” he said.
Blettenberg said he plans to seek an even more active role in the rescue community.
“Now I am sure I will continue to serve for as long as I can realistically produce such results and successfully encourage others to do the same,” he said.
“Underneath it all, it’s not really about me. It’s about the people we rescue, the team that makes us successful, the leadership that supports us, and the families that love us.”