Combat Controller to ride in Sea to Shining Sea          
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Veterans on cross-country ride to cycle through Emmitsburg
Originally published July 14, 2010........... sent by Wayne Norrad

In June 2009, Staff Sgt. Marc Esposito was in a Texas hospital recovering from a broken back and legs after his vehicle exploded in Afghanistan.

Doctors had bleak expectations for Esposito, who was only 25.

But nearly a year later, he's proving those doctors wrong. Esposito and 19 other veterans are cycling across the country to inspire wounded military men and women. They will ride through Emmitsburg on Sunday.

The Sea to Shining Sea ride, organized by World TEAM Sports and sponsored by State Farm Insurance, began May 22 at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It will end July 24 in Virginia Beach, Va., after 63 days and 4,000 miles.

Sunday's 70-mile trek through Emmitsburg will mark the 58th day of the ride.

Many of the cyclists are wounded veterans who pedal with help of prosthetic limbs and specially designed bikes.

"The goal of the ride is to honor the courage of our service men and women, recognize the strength of the American spirit and challenge perceptions of how we view athletes," said Melissa McKinley, a spokeswoman for State Farm Insurance.

Esposito said he hopes the ride will inspire other recovering soldiers.

"This time last year, I was just out of the hospital in a wheelchair and back brace," Esposito said. "Hopefully, when other veterans see us go 4,000 miles with different injuries and problems, they'll say, 'If they can go from sea to shining sea, I can get back to therapy and the life I love.'"

On Sunday morning, the riders will depart from Breezewood, Pa., and travel through Mercersburg. They will have lunch in Greencastle, Pa., before traveling into Gettysburg for a water break at 3 p.m. Their day will end at 5 p.m. in Emmitsburg , where they will stay at the Sleep Inn and Suites on Silo Hill Parkway.

Similar to many of the stops along the way, riders will be welcomed with a dinner reception hosted by local State Farm agents. Ride organizers do not have the details of the reception until a few days before.

Emmitsburg officials were unaware the veterans were arriving as of Tuesday, but Councilman Tim O'Donnell was trying to make contact with ride organizers, Town Planner Susan Cipperly said.

In Emmitsburg , a large banner that has traveled across the country with the riders will be displayed. Locals can sign the banner, and for every signature, State Farm will donate $1 to helping wounded military members, Esposito said.

He said he and his teammates are excited about reaching Emmitsburg .

"We've been through some great places," he said. "One of the things it's doing is spreading motivation. It's contagious and we're really hoping it'll spread from our team to throughout the country."

HEBRON – A team of exceptional athletes, many of whom are wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans representing all military branches, will be traveling across Ohio July 9 -14, as a part of World T.E.A.M. Sports’ inaugural bike trek across America called Sea to Shining Sea.

The goal of Sea to Shining Sea is to honor the courage of our service men and women, recognize the strength of the American spirit and challenge perceptions of how we view athletes. The ride kicked off in San Francisco on May 22 and will conclude in Virginia Beach on July 24.

Spanning 63 days and some 4,000 miles, the cyclists are testing their physical limits and inspiring people, disabled or not, to live active and enriched lives. On their way to Ohio, the group has cycled through deserts, mountain passes and historical landmarks providing dramatic proof that disabled Americans can lead productive lives and accomplish feats most people only dream about. Several riders have specially-designed bikes that make it possible for them to participate.

The riders will travel through Licking County along historic National Road (US 40) on Monday, July 12. After departing from Columbus, riders will have their first water stop in Etna at the Etna United Methodist Church, lunch will be served in Jacksontown at the Licking Township Fire Company and a final water stop in Hopewell before they leave Licking County. The day’s journey will end with a celebration in Cambridge.

Community members are invited to cheer the riders on as their make their way through Licking County.

Among the supporters joining the group will be Army Brig. Gen. Arnold N. Gordon-Bray, retired Marine Corps Gen. Robert Magnus, and Ambassador Paul Bremer, who oversaw the reconstruction of Iraq from May 2003 to June 2004. Ohio native Marc Esposito, a Combat Controller in Air Force Special Operations, is among the wounded riders.

State Farm is sponsoring the Sea to Shining Sea ride across America as a way to show support for service men and women and their commitment to being there for our country. In addition to funding, State Farm agents across the country will be there for all 63 days of the Sea to Shining Sea ride, serving as community coordinators -- providing local information, helping with logistics and route planning, and rallying folks to turn out to celebrate the riders along the way.

            Combat Controller to compete in Warrior Games          

5/11/2010 - POPE AIR FORCE BASE, NC -- Less than one year ago, a Combat Controller deployed from Pope's 21st Special Tactics Squadron was thrown from his vehicle when it hit an improvised explosive device while traveling in a convoy through Afghanistan.

As a result of the collision, Staff Sgt. Marc Esposito suffered several broken bones and traumatic brain injury.

During Sergeant Esposito's deployment to Afghanistan during spring 2009, he conducted 12 combat reconnaissance patrols, fought Taliban forces during four troops-in-contact engagements, coordinating and synchronizing airpower in support of the team's maneuver. Throughout the engagement, he fired at enemy forces with an M-240B machine gun while simultaneously controlling aircraft in support of his team.

"In May 2009 I was operating in Afghanistan as a Combat Controller in support of an Army Special Operations team," said Sergeant Esposito. "We were going after the bad guys when we hit an IED - everyone in the vehicle was thrown out. I was in the rear of the vehicle, where the concentrated blast came from. I was instantly left unconscious and catapulted from the vehicle.

"When the special operations medical technician found me, he said I was on fire, I had no heart beat and wasn't breathing," said Sergeant Esposito. "I had a tibia and fibula breaks in my left leg, a broken back, hit really hard in the face, and a lot of my teeth were smashed. I also suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury."

Following these injuries, most people would have extensive physiological and psychological damage, but Sergeant Esposito isn't most people. Remarkably, he was able to keep his legs and his memory was not affected, which he credits directly to the support he received throughout his recovery.

"The medic did some great things that day to really affect how everything came out," the Combat Controller said. "Despite the injuries I had, I have no memory loss and was able to keep my legs. I've been tested so many times it's amazing everything has come back so positively. I was really lucky that day.

"I've been really blessed to have the all support from the 21st STS," said Sergeant Esposito. "They've done an insurmountable number of good things and I can't say enough about them-- I could start, but I'd be talking for hours. I've had 100 percent of the support from my squadron and the Air Force and Army Special Operations Commands."

Sergeant Esposito is using his experience and recovery as motivation to compete during the 2010 Inaugural Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo. He is one of 20 Airmen to participate in Games slated May 10 to 14.

"About this time a year ago, Sergeant Esposito was laid up in a hospital bed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center with broken legs, broken feet, and a broken Back," said Lt. Col Michael Hughes, 21st Special Tactics Squadron Commander. "Yet it was not the severity of his injuries that was most notable, it was his unyielding determination to make a full and speedy recovery.
Staff Sgt. Marc Esposito, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, stands on a plateau in Afghanistan during his 2009 deployment. Sergeant Esposito suffered several broken bones and traumatic brain injury when his convoy hit an improvised explosive device. He has since recovered and is competing in the 2010 Inaugural Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo. He is one of 20 Airmen to participate in Games.
"This week he is representing the Air Force as a competitor in the Warrior Games, but as Marc will tell you, the Games are simply one more stepping stone on his road back to being a mission-ready Combat Controller. He serves as an inspiration and example to all of us as Airmen, military professionals and Americans," Colonel Hughes added.

The Warrior Games are open to military members and veterans with bodily injuries as well as mental wounds of war, such as post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. The Department of Defense announced that about 200 disabled service members and veterans are participating.

According to the Warrior Games Web site, "The Warrior Games provide a focal event to empower the incorporation of athletics into military wounded warrior programs, and provide an opportunity to introduce paralympic sports to injured service members, while at the same time building camaraderie and raising awareness of paralympic competition and adaptive sports in general."
Staff Sgt. Marc Esposito, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, poses with a military working dog during his 2009 deployment to Afghanistan.
The games are a joint effort between the Department of Defense and the U.S. Olympic Committee and are part of an effort to inspire recovery, capitalize on physical fitness, and promote new opportunities for growth and achievement, according to the U.S. Olympic Committee Web site. Since 2003, the U.S. Paralympics Committee has worked in partnership with Veterans Affairs, providing adaptive sports therapy to veterans.

Events will include shooting, swimming, archery, track, discus and wheelchair basketball, among others. Sergeant Esposito is participating in the swimming, cycling and shooting events.

Although he never has been a competitive swimmer, the sergeant loves to swim and does so during his therapy sessions, which doubled as training for the event, he said.

"Initially I was unable to put any impact on my feet and loving the water the way I do, it was just fun to get in the water and swim around," he said. "The cycling I also love. Prior to getting injured, I did triathlons all over the world. The bike rides and swimming are fun, I've never liked the running though, but I'll get back into it.

The competition provides more than just the opportunity to contend for the Wounded Warriors, said the sergeant. They show participants that although they're still limited in some areas, they're still able to get out and do things.

"The games are a proverbial diving board," said Sergeant Esposito. "They prepare you to do bigger and better things, if not physically then mentally. They help service members accept challenges throughout the day.

"Mentally, participants benefit most from knowing they can overcome their obstacles. Physically, they benefit because the games 
provide them with professional coaching, good equipment and the logistics to strengthen them. It's a form of physical therapy - and competition is the best form of therapy you can ever receive."

Sergeant Esposito said the support he'd received from his squadron, MAJCOM and SOCOM is insurmountable and he hopes to give back to the organizations which helped him into an extraordinary recovery.

"I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing without them - I'd probably still be in a wheelchair," he said. "I had doctors telling me I wouldn't walk right--if I'd even again. I told them 'I'm going to walk again--with my own legs.'"

He hopes to continue to go on and help future generations of wounded warriors.

"I'd be happy to give back a fraction of what I've been given," he said. "My goals are to get back in the fight and do whatever I can for the Air Force," he added.

CCT'er takes gold in Warrior Games
Congratulations SSgt Esposito. He goes from a 20K bike competition (bronze medal) straight into the shooting competition and kicks ass. While serving in Afghanistan a bomb shattered his lower legs and broke his back.

5/14/2010 - COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AFNS) -- Staff Sgt. Marc Esposito, a Combat Controller from the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, N.C., brought home gold May 13 in the pistol-shooting competition at the inaugural Warrior Games here moments after earning bronze in the 20-kilometer upright bike competition.

"It's exactly what we're trained to do as U.S. Air Force special operators," he said. "The battlefield is as dynamic as the sports field, and you're going to have to go from one extreme to the other. And, you have to do it quickly, and you have to do it flawlessly, without fault."

Sergeant Esposito is no stranger to shooting. His job as a Combat Controller often put him at risk in situations where he had to return fire on the enemy. He said he was able to use that experience to his benefit, despite the differences between shooting in combat and shooting competitively.

"It's different in the sense that there are no distractions," he said. "When you're shooting in combat and you're shooting here, you are going to the same spot in your mind."

Sergeant Esposito attributes his ability to transition from the cycling match to the calm of competitive shooting to his training and the special tactics mission.

"It's what's taught in the special tactics career field. You learn to calm yourself. You may have to run twenty miles and then do a swim for 50-meters underwater, but they expect you within a minute to get your heart rate down to a resting heart rate."

Though his calm was apparent in his performance, Sergeant Esposito had distinguished spectators cheering him on.

"Having him on the battlefield, I'm at ease. I'm at rest," said Chief Master Sgt. William Markham, also from 21st STS and Sergeant Esposito's chief. "I know he's going to take care of business. Having him compete here and represent the Air Force and special tactics, I have the same calm."

Special Tactics Airmen receive 19 decorations for Combat Operations

4/28/2010 - POPE AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- Nineteen medals were presented to nine Airmen assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, 17th Air Support Operations Squadron and 10th Combat Weather Squadron during a April 23 ceremony here.

Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, presented The Silver Star, four Bronze Stars Medals with Valor, four Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts and seven Air Force Combat Action Medals to special tactics Airmen for actions during their deployments.

During their deployments, Airmen from the 21st STS, here, along with Airmen from the 720th Special Tactics Group, participated in more than 1,700 combat operations leading to the capture or elimination of more than 1,900 enemy insurgents.

The Silver Star, the nation's third highest decoration for valor, was presented to Staff Sgt. Caleb Heidelberg for his actions during a firefight against enemy forces in Afghanistan in summer 2008.

In support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Sergeant Heidelberg, along with members of the Army Special Forces and the Afghanistan National Security Forces team, conducted a mounted combat reconnaissance patrol. As members of the patrol dismounted to clear a vegetated area, they were ambushed within 10 meters by enemy insurgent forces employing heavy and effective small-arms and mortar fire, injuring all of the dismounted team.

Sergeant Heidelberg became cognizant of the grave danger faced by his teammates, and exposed himself to extensive enemy fire while repositioning his vehicle to provide cover for his wounded comrades. With continued disregard for his own safety, he then stationed himself forward of the vehicle and suppressed the enemy with his squad automatic weapon, allowing his vehicle's gunner to climb to the mounted turret, clear the jammed automatic grenade launcher and put fire on the enemy.

Sergeant Heidelberg realized members of his patrol were wounded, still exposed and in mortal danger. Without hesitation, he moved from the cover and protective fire of his position and ran toward them. Exposing himself again to heavy enemy fire, Sergeant Heidelberg carried a seriously wounded Afghan soldier back to the protection of the vehicle.

As the fight continued, he directed a complex air-ground battle to destroy the enemy with AH-64 strafing attacks and bombs dropped from B-1 and F-15 aircraft. Additionally, he simultaneously directed four helicopter sorties to both evacuate the wounded and replenish a critically low supply of ammunition.

"Caleb's actions were extraordinary and heroic, and absolutely deserving of the Silver Star," said Lt. Col. James Hughes, 21st Special Tactics Squadron commander. "Yet his conduct was not entirely uncharacteristic for a Combat Controller and Special Tactics operator. As you hear about the details of their achievements, there are common characteristics that begin to emerge."

"Today, we are also recognizing three Purple Heart recipients in conjunction with their combat decorations," said Colonel Hughes. "It is not the severity of the injuries that is notable, it's the speed and determination of their recovery. To a man, they were planning and preparing for their return to combat even before their first round of surgeries was complete. They are an inspiration to us all and each will stand before you today, well on his way to a full recovery."

Following Sergeant Heidelberg's Silver Star presentation, 18 other medals were presented.

The other recipients are:

Staff Sgt. Joseph Byrne, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor, Purple Heart and Air Force Combat Action Medal.

Sergeant Byrne earned the medals during his deployment in Afghanistan spring of 2009 where during a period of about one month, his actions led to over 100 enemies killed, two wounded and 11 insurgents captured. During a battle where the enemy tried and failed three times to overrun Sergeant Byrne's position, he was shot in the neck and shoulder area.

Staff Sgt. Robert Gutierrez, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor, Purple Heart and Air Force Combat Action Medal.

Sergeant Gutierrez earned the medals for two separate deployments to Afghanistan. His Bronze Star Medal was awarded for his actions under intense enemy fire in Afghanistan winter 2008. His Purple Heart was awarded for injuries sustained in late 2009.

Tech. Sgt. Scott Trimble, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor, first oak leaf cluster, and Air Force Combat Action Medal.

During Sergeant Trimble's deployment to Iraq winter-summer of 2008, he directed more than 80 direct-action missions in Iraq. During a mission, Sergeant Trimble was engaged by the enemy from 30 meters away. Reacting quickly, Sergeant Trimble returned fire, killing one and injuring another.

Staff Sgt. Justin Ray, 10th Combat Weather Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor.

While deployed to Southern Afghanistan, Sergeant Ray executed over 70 combat reconnaissance and direct-action missions involving 16 troops-in-contact situations. The missions resulted in 74 enemy killed, 26 enemy wounded, and six high value targets captured. While carrying out his tactical duties as a Special Forces team member, Sergeant Ray completed 176 forward weather observations.

Staff Sgt, Marc Esposito, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and a Purple Heart.

During Sergeant Esposito's deployment to Afghanistan during spring 2009, he conducted 12 combat reconnaissance patrols, fought Taliban forces during four troops-in-contact engagements, coordinating and synchronizing airpower in support of the team's maneuver. Throughout the engagement, he fired at enemy forces with an M-240B machine gun while simultaneously controlling aircraft in support of his team.

Staff Sgt, Jonathan Jones, 10th Combat Weather Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.

During Sergeant Jones' deployment to Afghanistan spring-fall 2009, he participated in 55 outside the wire combat operations and 41 troops-in-contact situations. Sergeant Jones took and disseminated 104 tactical weather observations and accomplished 10 environmental assessments of local terrain and rivers.

Staff Sgt. Robert Laraia, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and an Air Force Combat Action Medal.

During Sergeant Laraia's deployment to Afghanistan he conducted 15 combat reconnaissance patrols, key leadership engagements and humanitarian assistance missions in a remote and volatile region. During one convoy, his team came under direct and accurate rocket propelled grenade, heavy machine gun, and small-arms fire which impacted his vehicle. Sergeant Laraia immediately returned fire while simultaneously coordinating close-air support. Despite the grave danger from rounds impacting his vehicle, he continued to engage the enemy until close air support arrived and then controlled four GBU-38 bombs from a B-1 bomber causing the enemy to disengage and flee the area.

Tech. Sgt. Eric Muller, 17th Air Support Operations Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, first oak leaf cluster, and an Air Force Combat Action Medal.
During Sergeant Muller's deployment to Afghanistan during the last half of 2007, he and his joint team came under direct small arms and mortar fire while manning a checkpoint. Sergeant Muller quickly radioed for close-air support and took a defensive position on the perimeter to return fire. After the 12-hour battle was over, sources reported 26 enemies killed including a Taliban commander with no friendly soldiers killed.