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Tech Sgt. Robert A. Roberts IIITech Sgt. Robert A. Roberts III

Unit: 321st Special Tactics Squadron

Medal: Distinguished Flying Cross

Earned: March, 2002, Shahi Khot mountains in Afghanistan

Medal: Air Medal with "V"

Earned: (Classified)

The Shahi Khot mountains of eastern Afghanistan were dark, cold and dangerous.

More than 2,000 coalition forces, about half of them American, were on those rugged, snow-covered slopes, trying to put the squeeze on Taliban and al-Qaida forces in what was known as Operation Anaconda.

It was March 2002, just six months after the attacks on America that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Word reached the 66th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron at Kandahar air base that three soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division needed evacuation, including one severely wounded by shrapnel from a mortar.

That’s where Tech Sgt. Robert A. Roberts III comes in.

Roberts is a pararescueman, now with the 321st Special Tactics Squadron of the 352nd Special Operations Group at RAF Mildenhall, England. In March 2002, however, he was assigned to the 58th Rescue Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., which had deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

His job, once the wounded men were reached, was to get them aboard the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter and treat their injuries. On the way in, the helicopter took fire. At the landing zone, it took even more.

Roberts, 30, remembers rocket-propelled grenades, mortar rounds and machine gun bullets flying through the landing zone.

He doesn’t brag, but he acknowledges he stayed cool while he assessed the situation.

“Chaos and fear are contagious. They really are,” he said. “What good am I if I lose my head?”

Two of the wounded had minor injuries. The other was severely wounded.

Roberts oversaw loading them all on the helicopter.

The most seriously wounded soldier suffered from, among other things, hypothermia and loss of blood.

The citation that accompanied Roberts’ Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism, which he and 16 others on two rescue missions that night were awarded in November 2002, includes this description: “The patient was pale and cold. His blood pressure could not be measured.”

The citation credits Roberts’ bravery, medical knowledge and rapid response to the patient’s condition with saving the man’s life.

On the ride to a hospital, Roberts transfused blood to the patient.

“He was pretty bad off,” Roberts recalled recently. “And he’s alive because of me.”

Again, he’s not bragging. The DFC is evidence of that.

Roberts joined the Air Force as a civil engineer after completing a degree in architecture at Arizona State University. Someone suggested he might like the life of a pararescueman.

Despite the operations tempo — he was on temporary duty 311 days in 2004 — the career agrees with him. In a later rescue that is still classified, Roberts earned the Air Medal with “V” for valor.

The citations are nice, Roberts said, but “not a necessity.”

“A pat on the back and a shake of the hand would mean just as much to me,” he said.

Two days after the rescue, Roberts visited the soldier whose life he saved that night in Afghanistan. He gave the man a pararescueman patch with Roberts’ name on the back, something he gives to everyone he rescues.

“It’s a silly thing that I do,” he said.

It is safe to guess the rescued soldier still has that patch, silly or not.

The record shows that eight Americans died in Operation Anaconda. Without Roberts, that figure would have been nine.

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