The Air Force Sergeants Association, sponsor of the Pitsenbarger Award, has selected Staff Sergeant Joseph A. Byrne, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, Pope AFB, North Carolina (AFSOC), as the winner of the 2010 AFSA Pitsenbarger Award.

From the Air Force SERGEANTS Association Magazine, July/August 2010

The Air Force Sergeants Association has named Staff Sergeant Joseph A. Byrne, a Combat Controller with the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, as the 2010 Pitsenbarger Award recipient.

During a 2009 deployment into the Taliban stronghold, SSgt Byrne, along with Army Special Forces, Navy SEALS, and Afghan Commandos, conducted several raids into enemy territory. He is credited with conducting strategic airstrikes into the heart of the Taliban citadel; identifying and destroying enemy positions; saving the lives of friendly troops, U.S. forces, and Afghan civilians; eliminating more than 100 subversives; capturing more than 10 insurgents; and exposing the single largest Afghan drug cache ever discovered by the United States.

Engaged in a continuous 2-day battle, SSgt Byrne led an unrelenting assault upon the enemy by calling in "danger close" 500-lb bombs, repelling enemy forces within a 200 meter range, and controlling 15 airstrikes with surgical precision. Left exposed and under fire on a rooftop, SSgt Byrne fearlessly defended his position while enemy forces tried and failed, three times, to overrun his position. He fought within inches of his life, sustaining gunshot wounds to his back, neck, and hand while simultaneously directing aircraft and slipping into unconsciousness.

SSgt Byrne exhibited immeasurable bravery during his Afghanistan deployment. Even from an exposed position, he managed to deliver a massive blow to Taliban drug operations. He executed high-risk night helicopter assaults and directed multiple day missions targeting and ultimately decimating the narcotics nexus. With the employ of expert airpower and strategic rocket strikes, SSgt Byrne is responsible for the recovery of $1.3 billion in black tar heroin, suicide vests, bombs, and weapons.

For his bravery and heroism under fire, SSgt Byrne was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor, the Purple Heart, and the Air Force Combat Action Medal.

SSgt Byrne is authorized the Air Force Recognition Ribbon in accordance with AFI 36-2805, Special Trophies and Awards.

The award will be presented to SSgt Byrne at the AFSA Honors Banquet, 18 August 2010, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Other Combat Controllers presented the Pitsenbarger Award;

April 29,1975 - Tan Son Nhut, Saigon's Main Airfield - MSgt. Lewis O. Brabham, Jr., who almost single-handedly directed air operations from the ground at Saigon's airport on the final day of conflict, will be presented the William H Pitsenbarger Heroism Award.  At 4 am on April 29th, 1975 Tan Son Nhut, Saigon's main airfield came under intense accurate rocket fire, mortar and artillery fire from firmly entrenched and virtually unopposed enemy forces. Within a few minutes nine U.S. and Vietnamese Air Force cargo aircraft and a number of helicopters were burning on the ramp. Sergeant Brabham roused his Combat Control Team and set up communications in the midst of the shelling to relay vital intelligence information to an airborne command post flying nearby. The barrage intensified during the morning, showering the airfield with shell fragments and debris. The attack became so intense and accurate that it triggered mass panic among the South Vietnamese. Many VNAF aircraft were making unauthorized and uncontrolled departures from the runways and taxiway, jettisoning live rockets, missiles, bombs, rocket pods and ammunition along the way.  Brabham organized an attempt to clear the active runway and make it safe for operations. Unprotected and continually exposed to exploding rounds, the Sergeant, although untrained in explosive ordnance disposed repeatedly moved by hand or with forklift various types of live and unexpended ammunition from the landing surface.  Within a short time, the northwest sector of the airfield fell to the North Vietnamese and both runways came under their control, isolating the lone controller in the control tower.  Without regard for his own safety, Sgt Brabham crossed the runway and adjoining open area under fire to the tower, recovered the controller and led him back across the field. He withdrew his men to the Defense Attache Office compound without casualties. There, he prepared his radio jeep for destruction and used his portable radio equipment to control the helicopter landing zone for the evacuation of personnel. He remained until the last moments to work air traffic and assist personnel in boarding outbound helicopters for flights to offshore ships.  Sergeant Brabham was later awarded the Silver Star by the Air Force for his gallantry.   This information came from CCT Book, Eye of the Storm, written by Gene Adcock.

HISTORICAL NOTE - FIRST IN and LAST OUT; Combat Controller Lewis (Lew) Brabham was the last man to be evacuated from the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon.

July 8, 2003 -  Staff Sgt. Gabriel Brown was selected for his heroism while supporting Operation Anaconda during Operation Enduring Freedom.  While attached to the 75th Ranger Regiment, his quick-reaction force was called to extract a team of five U.S. Navy SEALs and one combat control team member. Brown controlled the close-air support assets for more than 15 hours during the battle at Takur Ghar, Afghanistan.

2005 - TSgt Bradley has been honored as the Air Force Pitsenberger Award winner for 2005.

AIC Pitsenbarger was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for treating and protecting scores of wounded infantrymen while under intense enemy fire at an enemy stronghold near the Vietnamese capital of Saigon on April 11,1966, and was mortally wounded himself.

A1C William H. Pitsenbarger

Three HH-43F's from Detachment 6 38th ARRS, Bien Hoa AB, RVN, are launched to evacuate wounded US Army personnel from a fire fight 33 miles southeast. Pedro 73, on which Airman Pitsenbarger, "Pitts", serves, is able to evacuate on severely wounded soldier to Binh Ba field hospital, eight miles south. Pedro 73 returns to the extraction site, lowering Pitts to the ground by hoist to assist with litter loading and to provide emergency care. Pedro 73 returns to Binh Ba with another litter patient, leaving Pitts to continue organizing evacuees and treating patients. Pedro 73 returns to evacuate more wounded and pick up Airman Pitsenbarger. While enroute, Pedro 73 is advised that enemy activities have intensified and the area is hot. Just as he lowers another stokes litter, he receives heavy enemy small arms fire, causing the pilot to immediately guillotine (cut) the hoist cable and break away. Heavily damaged, Pedro 73 makes it safely to Binh Ba, but enemy fire is so intense no other aircraft can return to the site. From army survivors, glowing reports of Pitts' heroism emerge. Constantly throughout the night, while sustaining mortar attacks and deadly sniper fire, pitts moves amongst the wounded, rendering medical aid and distributing weapons and ammunition, often becoming a human shield as he drags the more seriously injured to the relative safety of the inner perimeter. In the morning, after a night of intense fire fights another Pedro returns to a now quiet battle site. A1C Harry O'Beirne is lowered by hoist to evacuate the few remaining survivors. He finds Pitts lying across a deceased soldier to whom he had been administering medical aid. In his hand is his weapon, aiming out into the now silent jungle. Airman Pitsenbarger is awarded the Air Force Cross posthumously. He becomes the first publicly announced enlisted recipient of the AF Cross in its history.

MOH Citation

Airman First Class Pitsenbarger distinguished himself by extreme valor on 11 April 1966 near Cam My, Republic of Vietnam, while assigned as a Pararescue Crew Member, Detachment 6, 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. On that date, Airman Pitsenbarger was aboard a rescue helicopter responding to a call for evacuation of casualties incurred in an on-going firefight between elements of the United States Army's 1st Infantry Division and a sizable enemy force approximately 35 miles east of Saigon.

With complete disregard for personal safety, Airman Pitsenbarger volunteered to ride a hoist more than one hundred feet through the jungle, to the ground. On the ground, he organized and coordinated rescue efforts, cared for the wounded, prepared casualties for evacuation, and insured that the recovery operation continued in a smooth and orderly fashion. Through his personal efforts, the evacuation of the wounded was greatly expedited.

As each of the nine casualties evacuated that day were recovered, Pitsenbarger refused evacuation in order to get one more wounded soldier to safety. After several pick-ups, one of the two rescue helicopters involved in the evacuation was struck by heavy enemy ground fire and was forced to leave the scene for an emergency landing. Airman Pitsenbarger stayed behind, on the ground, to perform medical duties.

Shortly thereafter, the area came under sniper and mortar fire. During a subsequent attempt to evacuate the site, American forces came under heavy assault by a large Viet Cong force. When the enemy launched the assault, the evacuation was called off and Airman Pitsenbarger took up arms with the besieged infantrymen. He courageously resisted the enemy, braving intense gunfire to gather and distribute vital ammunition to American defenders.

As the battle raged on, he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to care for the wounded, pull them out of the line of fire, and return fire whenever he could, during which time, he was wounded three times. Despite his wounds, he valiantly fought on, simultaneously treating as many wounded as possible. In the vicious fighting which followed, the American forces suffered 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached, and airman Pitsenbarger was finally fatally wounded. Airman Pitsenbarger exposed himself to almost certain death by staying on the ground, and perished while saving the lives of wounded infantrymen.

His bravery and determination exemplify the highest professional standards and traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Air Force.

12/08/00 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger was posthumously awarded the nation's highest honor during a presentation ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Museum here Dec. 8.

Pitsenbarger, a pararescueman killed in action during the Vietnam War, becomes the service's second enlisted Medal of Honor recipient since the Air Force became a separate service in 1947.

The airman's father, William F. Pitsenbarger, and his wife, Alice, accepted the award from Secretary of the Air Force Whit Peters. The audience included battle survivors, hundreds of pararescue airmen, a congressional representative and the Air Force chief of staff.

Pitsenbarger was awarded the Medal of Honor for treating and protecting scores of wounded infantrymen -- while under intense enemy fire and being mortally wounded himself -- in a rain forest stronghold near the Vietnamese capital of Saigon in 1966.

His actions during the mission were initially recognized with a posthumous award of the Air Force Cross. That award is the military's second-highest for service members, and the highest award the Air Force can bestow.

Upon further review in the 1990s, a number of private citizens and federal officials successfully advocated that the Medal of Honor would more accurately characterize Pitsenbarger's heroism.

The medal is presented to its recipient on behalf of the president of the United States and in the name of Congress.

"After this mission is complete, the light of Bill Pitsenbarger's valor will remain, reminding us of him and the sacrifices so many have made, that others may live," Peters said.

The Medal of Honor is awarded to individuals who, while serving in the U.S. armed services, distinguish themselves by conspicuous gallantry and courage at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty.

AFSA presents the Pitsenbarger Award annually to an Air Force enlisted member for heroic acts on-or-off duty that save a life or prevent a serious injury.
Editor's Note: AIC Pitsenbarger was honored at a Navy ship-naming ceremony November 28, 2001.


 Technical Sergeant David Keaton
 Air Force Enlisted Pararescueman
24th Special Tactics Squadron, Pope AFB, NC

On October 27, 2007, Sergeant Keaton, a Pararescueman (PJ) assigned to the 24th Special Tactics Squadron at Pope AFB, North Carolina, was serving a tour in Afghanistan. On that particular day, Sergeant Keaton demonstrated amazing bravery, managing to single-handedly save the lives of five critically injured Afghan noncombatants, while being bombarded with heavy gunfire.

 During a high-risk infiltration into a Taliban stronghold, with dozens of Mujahadeen (a military force of Muslim guerilla warriors engaged in a jihad) guarding high-value interests, Sergeant Keaton and his team were ambushed. They immediately engaged the hostiles, gained fire superiority, and suppressed the militants with fire. The enemy fighters responded by using women and children as human shields. 

Recognizing the necessity for a timely response, and totally disregarding mortal danger, Sergeant Keaton rushed 150 meters through a barrage of enemy fire to the first casualty; a seven-year-old boy who had been shot in the pelvis. Selflessly shielding the boy from incoming fire with his own body, Sergeant Keaton conducted an initial assessment of the patient, moved 30 meters to safe cover, adroitly dressed his wounds, administered medicine, and set up a casualty collection point (CCP). 

Anticipating more casualties, Sergeant Keaton, in the midst of extreme danger, resumed his search in the deadly gunfight. He quickly located the second casualty 40 meters from the CCP. This time, it was an eight-year-old boy bleeding profusely from multiple gunshot wounds. Sergeant Keaton rapidly occluding life-threatening hemorrhages, checked and stabilized the patient’s spinal cord, and carried him to the CCP through an onslaught of enemy fire. 

Sergeant Keaton continued his search and rescue operation by crossing the hazardous battlefield three more times. A woman, an 11-year-old female, and a 15-year-old female were found and treated by the PJ. Sergeant Keaton continued lifesaving emergency trauma care during a 30-minute flight to the field hospital, enabling immediate surgical intervention and critical communication regarding the patients’ injuries. Because of Sergeant Keaton’s flawless patient turnover with the hospital surgical team, the doctors credited him with the preservation of all five patients. 

Word of this Airman’s bravery and medical treatment spread throughout the Afghan village, and Sergeant Keaton was lauded by the Tactical Force Commander as a “hero.” This model PJ, who selflessly risked his life to save the life of one woman and four children not only embraces the PJ motto, “That Others May Live,” but is truly deserving of the 2008 Air Force Sergeants Association Pitsenbarger Award.