Air Force awards Silver Star to Afghanistan war veteran
By BRIAN BETHEL | The Abilene Reporter-News (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 18, 2017
Retired Master Sgt. Kristopher Parker said it was a humbling experience being awarded a Silver Star Friday morning.
“I’m overwhelmed by it,” he said.
Honored with the third-highest military combat decoration that can be awarded to a member of the United States Armed Forces, Parker told reporters after the ceremony at Dyess Air Force Base that he was simply “doing my job.”
But Air Force Global Strike Commander Gen. Robin Rand said during the ceremony that Parker had given “unbelievable service to our nation,” noting that since 2001, the Air Force has given only 79 Silver Stars.
The general said that in his own 39 years of service, he had never had an opportunity to preside at the awarding of a Silver Star.
On May 21, 2014, during an air assault mission in Afghanistan, Parker and his team approached a cave expected to be filled with improvised explosives, ammunition and supplies. A nine-hour gunfight with enemy insurgents erupted.
During that fight, the group’s lieutenant was severely wounded, and Parker “just took the lead,” Rand said.
“He just led his way out, and he saved his men’s lives, and he saved the lives of soldiers and airmen,” he said.
Parker immediately returned fire, holding insurgents in the cave opening. His team came under attack by small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and hand-thrown improvised explosive devices
He directed suppressive fire and led the evacuation of the injured lieutenant, braving enemy direct fire while sweeping the engagement area for explosive devices, pulling troops to cover and aiding in timely evacuation of wounded personnel.
Parker engaged the enemy continually, suppressing and drawing fire upon himself while marking additional cache sites for avoidance by ground forces and later destruction by air strike.
Born and raised in Calsbad, N.M., Parker joined the Air Force in 2003. He was chosen to be an explosive ordinance disposal specialist, a “select group” subjected to rigorous training, Rand said.
“Sadly, probably, no one has paid more with blood, sweat, and tears over the last 16 years in the Air Force than what our EOD specialists have had to do,” he said. “Kris is not unusual in that he’s done four combat deployments – four aggressive, outside the wire, getting shot at combat deployments. And that is not unusual at all for an EOD.”
Parker was previously awarded a Bronze Star for his honor, valor, devotion, and selfless sacrifice in the face of extreme danger.
The Secretary of Defense recently directed a review of previously awarded medals, during which it was found Parker should have received a Silver Star for his actions.
Parker does admit “tremendous pride” in what he was able to do that day, although “everything that I did came naturally.”
“We took the injury and we didn’t have radio communication,” he recalled. “I tried to figure out how to get radio communication. I tried to take radios and tried to piece them together. … It didn’t work. Everything that day was pretty much against us.”
But it did work out, he said, and for everything to “happen like it happened,” with no American lives lost, was to Parker little short of “something amazing.”
Parker’s recovery from injuries sustained that day has been “a slow, uphill grind,” Rand said, calling the award “a very small token” in face of his bravery and sacrifice.
“To say that I’m humble and grateful and appreciative and proud to be an airman wearing this uniform today as we do this is an understatement,” he said during the ceremony, praising both Parker and his family for their role in forging a hero.
©2017 the Abilene Reporter-News (Abilene, Texas)
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