Special Tactics Airmen Recognized for Bravery

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Katrina Cheesman
  • 24th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Four Air Force Special Operations Airmen, including three Special Tactics Airmen and a CV-22 Osprey special missions aviator, were recognized today in a Portraits in Courage ceremony in Washington, D.C.

The four Airmen were among 24 Airmen honored by the 17th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James A. Cody in the ninth year of the recognition series, which highlights Airmen who exhibit incredible bravery on and off the battlefield.

"These tremendous Airmen represent a myriad of career fields of our Air Force....Their feats of courage, for their teammates, our country, our partners, are amazing," CMSAF Cody said. "We are so blessed to have men and women like this, and their families, in our Air Force...you are why we are the world's best Air Force."

The four Air Commandos recognized today at the ceremony were Master Sgt. Ivan Ruiz, Tech. Sgts. David Shea, Thomas Bauhs, and Matthew McKenna.

Master Sgt. Ivan Ruiz, a special tactics pararescueman, was the lone rescue specialist attached to an Army Special Forces team in Afghanistan during his eleventh tour. During an assault on a Taliban stronghold to clear weapons and IED caches, he and his teammates were caught in a crossfire in the middle of an open courtyard. When both his teammates fell, he refused to leave their side, providing cover fire despite intense fire and launched grenades. He eventually moved the two wounded teammates to relative safety to provide life-saving trauma care to them and other injured team members. He was then stationed at the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, but is now at the 56th Rescue Squadron, RAF Lakenheath, U.K.

Tech Sgt. Thomas Bauhs, a combat controller at the 23 STS, was embedded with an Army Special Forces unit in Afghanistan when he was ambushed by 50 insurgents. During a 12-hour fire fight, despite multiple injuries to his head, Bauhs continued to call in close air support and medical evacuation for injured teammates, return fire to the enemy and render aid to his injured ground commander. His calm demeanor despite traumatic brain injury saved the lives of his teammates and resulted in 11 enemies killed in action.

Tech. Sgt. David Shea, a CV-22 special missions aviator at the 8th Special Operations Squadron, was manning the tail gun during an attempted rescue of American citizens from a United Nations compound in Central Africa when the aircraft sustained heavy damage due to ground gunfire. Despite multiple systems failures, Shea helped maneuver the aircraft away from the ground attack but multiple members were heavily wounded. While holding his teammate's arterial bleeding at bay and tending to four Army Special Forces members, he continued to identify system failures and ensured safe return of the aircraft and all personnel.

Tech. Sgt. Matthew McKenna, a combat controller from the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, was tasked to clear a known improvised explosives device facilitation ring, along with his Army Special Forces team in Afghanistan. Immediately upon entering the village, they experienced heavy contact from 60 well-armed fighters. Exposing himself to heavy enemy fire multiple times during the 13-hour firefight, McKenna prevented a potentially catastrophic ambush, coordinated vital resupply air drops for ammunition and water and called in multiple precise airstrikes, contributing to 103 enemies killed in action and cleared IED caches.

All of the stories featured in this year's Portraits in Courage can be found on the Air Force Portraits in Courage website.