WESTHAMPTON BEACH, N.Y. – On April 24, 2017, seven Airmen from the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing jumped into the night sky over the Atlantic, 1,700 miles from Long Island.
Their mission was to provide emergency care for two sailors on the Slovenian bulk carrier Tamar who had been badly burned in an explosion.
On June 4, 2022, during a ceremony at F.S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach, the two combat rescue officers and five pararescuemen from the wing’s 103rd Rescue Squadron were awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal for heroism for their actions.
The medal recognizes Airmen who distinguish themselves through heroism, meritorious achievement and service.
Combat rescue officers Lt. Col. Edward Boughal and Maj. Marty Viera were honored with pararescuemen Master Sgt. Jordan St. Clair; Senior Master Sgt. Erik Blom; Master Sgt. Jedediah Smith; and Staff Sgt. Michael Hartman.
Master Sgt. Bryan Dalere was also honored but was not present because he is now assigned to the Alaska Air National Guard.
Col. Jeffrey Cannet, the commander of the 106th Operations Group, who piloted the HC-130 search and rescue aircraft on the mission, praised those who jumped into the ocean that night.
“The amount of complexity in that mission just can’t be overstated,” Cannet said. “The fact that these guys had to do that, all out there, alone and unafraid, getting it done, was just a testament to their skill and ability.”
The facts of the mission show how incredibly demanding it was, Cannet said.
“I remember getting the call that a 625-foot vessel traveling from Baltimore to Gibraltar had an explosion 1,700 miles off the east coast of New York,” Cannet said. “Four seamen were critically injured and required immediate medical care.”
Col. Andrew Wineberger, then the 106th Operations Group commander, maintained the wing was capable and ready to execute the mission, Cannet said.
The 106th could not formally be assigned the Tamar rescue because it was a civil search and rescue mission, he said. However, all the Airmen involved volunteered to go on the flight.
Before they could take off, the team needed to gather medical and surgical equipment from local hospitals.
Then, aircraft maintenance issues threatened to end the mission shortly after takeoff, but the flight engineers mitigated the problem, Cannet said.
The jump into the Atlantic at night required dropping equipment bundles on target, along with two inflatable Zodiac boats.
Once in the water, the pararescue team had to climb into the Zodiacs, retrieve the floating supplies, head to the ship, and board the Tamar on a rope ladder while 15-foot waves tossed the boat up and down, Cannet said.
Every aspect of the mission presented challenges, said St. Clair, the team leader.
Along with the distance and the jump, once on board, the 106th Airmen had to conduct emergency surgery, provide medical care for three days as the ship approached the Azores, then ensure the victims were airlifted onto a Portuguese helicopter, St. Clair said.
“We were able to make a difference in the lives of two men,” St. Clair said. “Those two men are alive and enjoying life today because of our ability to provide a capability that very few organizations can.”
Boughal said the unusual mission was a perfect example of the wisdom his pararescue instructor had passed along to him: “Someday when somebody is having their worst day, you better have your best day.”
Cannet, Boughal and St. Clair credited Lt. Col. Stephen Rush, the 106th Medical Group commander and 103rd Rescue Squadron wing flight surgeon, for having such a huge impact on the medical capabilities of the entire pararescue career field, preparing the team to be elite medical professionals.
The Tamar rescue mission, Boughal told the audience, is a testament to the professionalism and dedication of the men and women of the 106th Rescue Wing and its commitment to the pararescue creed “... that others may live.”
“Today, we honor these incredible men for putting it all on the line to save lives,” Boughal said.