by Leslie Finstein
U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
6/3/2011 - USAF Academy, Colo. -- Two enlisted medics from the Air Force Academy's 10th Medical Group were recently awarded the Bronze Star Medal for their actions in support of overseas contingency operations.
Staff Sgt. Alicia Chavez, 10th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, and Staff Sgt. Earnest Aziz, 10th Surgical Operations Squadron, served in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively, from Sept. 2010 to March 2011, and it was their actions while deployed that earned them this high military honor.
Sergeant Aziz, a surgical technician, served in Afghanistan as a part of the 655th Forward Surgical Team. While at the unit's forward operating base Ghanzi's Polish Hospital, he took on the role of laboratory and logistics technician. He also assumed the role of lead operating room technician.
According to his Bronze Star awards package, Sergeant Aziz was recognized by leadership from the FST, Combined Joint Task Force White Eagle, and Task Force Medical-East Logistics as a key contributor to the success of the FST mission.
Some of those contributions include;
-Saving the lives of 45 critical patients, some of which were under indirect fire.
-Managing over 300 laboratory exams, nine during mass casualty events
-Assisting in two whole blood drives which saved the lives of four local nationals
In addition to treating patients and assisting surgeries, Sergeant Aziz was responsible for a $15 million budget for medical materiel and equipment. In this role, he identified and eliminated waste and worked to streamline transfer protocols for containers on and off the base.
While Sergeant Aziz earned his medal in Afghanistan performing his medical duties, Sergeant Chavez earned her Bronze Star for the humanitarian work she undertook in Iraq.
Sergeant Chavez is an Independent Duty Medical Technician serving in the Academy's cadet clinic. During her deployment to Iraq, she served as the medical, media, and humanitarian assistance combat advisor for the Operational Partnership Team in the Basra Operations Command. Originally she was sent there to serve as a traditional medic, said Sergeant Chavez, but that role was already filled by a doctor on base so that is how she found herself working on humanitarian projects.
During her months in Iraq, Sergeant Chavez worked on coordinating and developing humanitarian aid projects to help the local population.
"Where our camp was, in the middle of no-where, we saw people who had nothing," Sergeant Chavez said. "There was trash everywhere, really grubby clothes, and not enough food. It's really sad - we're out there with all these people and we have everything. Even the Iraqi Army had little in the way of supplies. How could we not do something?"
Her biggest project was a Medical Civilian Military Operation in March. The event brought together eight Iraqi doctors with eight American doctors and medics working as consultants to treat over 400 patients.
Another humanitarian effort organized and developed by Sergeant Chavez' was the donation of blankets, heaters, school supplies, and many other items to the Basra community. This effort received great praise in her Bronze Star award package. She worked with Embry Riddle and Old Dominion Universities to raise funds for blankets and heaters, and with elementary schools in Arizona with for the school supplies. Sergeant Chavez also facilitated a letter exchange between the American and Iraqi elementary school students which she hopes will continue when school goes back in session next fall.
The two staff sergeants may have had different experiences to earn the medal but both felt the same on receiving it, shocked.
"I was shocked," said Sergeant Chavez. "I've always heard about others receiving Bronze Stars for combat or huge events, so I didn't expect it. It's really exciting."
"I was amazed to find out that I was put in for a Bronze Star," Sergeant Aziz said. "It should have gone to my whole team, not just to me."
The leadership of the Academy's 10th Medical Group expressed great pride in the awards and accomplishments Sergeants Aziz and Chavez earned while deployed.
"The accomplishments of Sergeant Aziz and Sergeant Chavez shine a bright light on the enlisted men and women of the 10th Medical Group," said Col. Anne Sproul, 10th Medical Group commander. "We are certainly proud of them and know they will both continue to do great things for the Academy and the United States Air Force."
Col. Karen Heupel, commander of the 10th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, extended her appreciation for Sergeant Chavez accomplishments.
"I am proud of Sergeant Chavez," she said. "It is rare to see an enlisted medic earn a Bronze Star, so it was well earned!"
Col. Annette Gablehouse, commander of the 10th Surgical Operations Squadron, wasn't surprised to see how well her NCO performed in the deployed environment.
"Sergeant Aziz has in-depth knowledge of all aspects of surgical techniques, instrumentation, and sterilization which make him the ideal deployed surgical technician to care for traumatically injured troops," she said. "Sergeant Aziz is the go-to resource to accomplish the mission and is well deserving of the Bronze Star."
6/7/2011 1:02:32 PM ET Good job Earnest. Well deserved medal. SSgt was our go to guy for anything and everything. His name was known through out the FOB and the TF Med-East community. He truly earned this high military honor.