Master Sgt. Michael Sears is the first New Jersey Air National Guardsman to receive the Silver Star since World War II. (Master Sgt. Mark Olsen/Air Force)
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Master Sgt. Michael Sears was already on the ground in the midst of a Sept. 29, 2012, firefight in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, when a rocket-propelled grenade flew by, hitting a Polish mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle and seriously injuring the driver.
Sears, an explosive ordnance disposal technician assigned to the 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard, jumped into action. Leaving cover behind, he sprinted 50 feet through a wall of enemy gunfire to reach the wounded soldier.
Over two hours, Sears fired more than 190 rounds from his M4, and is credited with both saving the life and protecting the wounded Polish solder, and protecting a Polish medic.
For this, he has been awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest award for valor. At a June 28 ceremony, officials said it was the first time since World War II that a member of the New Jersey Air National Guard was awarded the medal.
“After five fearless trips across open terrain with absolutely no cover while being directly engaged by the enemy with heavy machine gun fire and RPG rounds, well within the lethal range of the weapons being used, Sergeant Sears could have remained under cover with the wounded and medical personnel at the temporary casualty collection point building; however, he chose not to ... in order to continue the fight and help his team members neutralize the enemy,” the medal citation states.
Sears, as part of an Air Force EOD team assigned to a Polish battle group, was on a mounted combat patrol in an MRAP. Early on, Sears spottedand disabled a pressure-plate improvised explosive device connected to an 80-pound charge. He found another one six feet further on and disabled it, too, and the team moved on.
At about 3:45 p.m. local time, the convoy came under intense fire. Between eight and 10 insurgents opened up with small arms and sniper rifles from a mud wall about 400 meters east of the convoy. The Air Force EOD team returned fire from the vehicle turret, while Sears, disregarding his own safety, jumped out of the vehicle to identify and engage the enemy, according to the citation.
When he dismounted, the RPG flew by, moving within three feet of the turret before hitting the Polish MRAP in the driver’s side door. The wounded soldier opened his door and fell out. Sears caught him, injuring his shoulder at the same time.
“All of the wounded soldier’s weight was placed on Sergeant Sears’ left arm, which caused a loud snap sound suggesting that several tendons had just been torn in his shoulder,” the citation states. “Grimacing through the pain, and while still being heavily engaged, Sergeant Sears dragged the wounded Polish soldier with his injured arm, in order to keep his firing hand on his weapon to engage the enemy.”
Once behind cover, Sears began to treat the wounded soldier. More gunfire came, this time from a flanking force of six to eight insurgents 300 meters to the south. Sears jumped on the soldier to protect him from fire, and began firing his M4 at the insurgents.
Another RPG flew by, this time missing the vehicles. Sears was able to place a tourniquet on the wounded soldier’s nearly amputated leg.
Several minutes passed with no medic responding, so Sears again decided to expose himself to enemy fire. He ran about 100 feet through open ground, blanked by small arms fire, to get the medic’s attention and bring him back to the wounded soldier. When the medic returned, Sears provided covering fire for about 10 minutes until a group of Polish soldiers returned with a litter. The sergeant again braved fire, running 150 feet to a Polish medical Rosomak vehicle and directing it to the wounded soldier.
The team was able to return to Forward Operating Base Waghez.The wounded soldier was then taken to Bagram Airfield Hospital.
Army Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau, attended the ceremony at Atlantic City Air National Guard Base and said that Sears epitomizes the Guard mission of fighting both abroad and for the homeland mission. Sears is also a civilian EOD tech with the Department of Homeland Security.
“What is in a person that puts their life at risk, when they’re in a safe position and then they jump out from behind MRAPs and Hummers and jump into the face of the enemy to save a coalition solder’s life, really to save multiple soldiers’ lives?” Grass said.
Sears at the ceremony said the award is a huge honor, and one he is going to share with those in his career field and with the others on his team who kept him safe that day.
“I’m receiving this award on behalf of all our EOD brothers and sisters we have lost and their families,” he said. “I know we haven’t received many Silver Stars in our career field in this IED war, but this one I can honestly say is for our fallen brothers and sisters. We’ve lost too many.”