The Air Force will award Bronze Stars to five Special Operations Surgical Team airmen next week, including four who saved many lives under grueling conditions on the front lines of the war against the Islamic State in 2016.
The awards ― the military’s fourth-highest combat medal for heroism ― will be presented Feb. 13 at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Air Force Special Operations Command said in a release Friday.
Emergency medicine physician Lt. Col. Ben Mitchell, nurse anesthetist Lt. Col. Matthew Uber, surgeon Maj. Justin Manley, and emergency room nurse Capt. Cade Reedy of the 720th Operations Support Squadron will receive Bronze Stars for their work assisting civilians and local fighters wounded in the fight against ISIS for two weeks in the summer of 2016.
Maj. Jonathan Chin, another SOST airman who was on a different deployment, will also receive a Bronze Star.
A SOST consists of six mobile surgical specialists with advanced training who can deploy to the field to save lives as quickly as possible.
“Our SOSTs are equipped to perform life-saving battlefield surgery and trauma resuscitation, far forward, to ensure the men and women who make up our military and partner forces make it home alive,” said Lt. Col. Eli Mitchell, commander of the 720th, in the release. “We couldn’t be more proud of the accomplishments of this team, which is on par with the level of expertise and competence we’ve come to expect from all the teams.”
Mitchell, Uber, Manley and Reedy ― along with emergency room nurse Maj. Nelson Pacheco and respiratory therapist Technical Sgt. Richard Holguin, both of whom have already received their Bronze Stars ― worked around the clock during their deployment to the undisclosed location. They treated 750 patients, responded to 19 mass-casualty events, conducted 16 life-saving surgeries, and treated victims of a chemical weapon attack.
The team, based at Hurlburt Field, Florida, was honored last August when they were included in the Air Force’s Portraits in Courage publication.
They also spoke about their experience, and the bonds they formed with each other and the local fighters, whose trust and respect they earned, in an interview with Air Force Times that month.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve done in my life, but the most rewarding,” Holguin said last year.
They had to improvise in austere conditions with extremely limited supplies, and pioneered the use of complex medical procedures on the battlefield. Casualties came in nearly nonstop. And all too often, they had to treat severely wounded or dying children.
“We saw the worst of the horror that modern warfare brings,” Mitchell said.