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Thought for the Week...

If you improve a little bit, in one area each day, imagine where you would be in 1, 3 and even 10 years. That time is going to pass anyway. So we might as well fill it with amazing progress and surprise ourselves with a beautiful future.  Abraham Lincoln

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Phase Out of SBP DIC

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 modified the law that requires an...
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Freedom Is Not Free

The recent release of the movie, The Last Full Measure contains a number of stories within the larger context of the heroic actions of William Hart Pitsenbarger (July 8, 1944 – April 11, 1966). If you choose to see the movie, you can decide for yourself on the worthiness of the screenplay adapted story as portrayed by the various characters. In any case, the real story is worthy of celebrating this heroic airman. Below is a short summary. 

Pitsenbarger was a U.S. Air Force Pararescueman who flew on almost 300 rescue missions during the Vietnam War to aid downed soldiers and pilots. On April 11, 1966, he was killed aiding and defending a unit of soldiers pinned down by an enemy assault during the Vietnam War. Before his death he helped save over 60 men in the battle. He was initially posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, which was later upgraded to the Medal of Honor. 

After he graduated from high school, he decided to join the U.S. Air Force, and on New Year's Eve 1962, he was on a train bound for basic training in San Antonio. During his basic training in early 1963, he volunteered for Pararescue. His training included U.S. Army parachute school, survival school, a rescue and survival medical course, and the U.S. Navy's scuba diving school. More Air Force rescue training and jungle survival school followed. His final training was in air crash rescue and firefighting. He completed the qualifying requirements and was one of the first group of airmen to qualify for Pararescue right out of basic training. After completing pararescue training, he was assigned to the Rescue Squadron assigned to Hamilton AFB, California. 

Pitsenbarger was later sent on Temporary Duty (TDY) to Vietnam. Upon completing his first TDY assignment, he volunteered to return and received orders in 1965 to report to Detachment 6, 38th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Bien Hoa Air Base near Saigon. His unit was composed of five aircrews that flew three Kaman HH-43F Huskie helicopters. His commander, Major Maurice Kessler, called him "One of a special breed. Alert and always ready to go on any mission." On one of Pitsenbarger's missions, he hung from an HH-43's cable to rescue a wounded South Vietnamese soldier from a burning minefield. This action earned him the Airman's Medal and the Republic of Vietnam's Medal of Military Merit and Gallantry Cross with Bronze Palm. 

On April 11, 1966, the Joint Rescue Center dispatched two Huskies from Detachment 6 to extract a half-dozen or more Army casualties pinned down in a battle near Cam My, 35 miles (56 km) east of Saigon. Upon reaching the site of the ambush, he was lowered through the trees to the ground where he attended to the wounded before having them lifted to the helicopter by cable. After six wounded men had been flown to an aid station, the two U.S. Air Force helicopters returned for their second load. As one of the helicopters lowered its litter basket to Pitsenbarger, who had remained on the ground with the 20 infantrymen still alive, it was hit by a burst of enemy small-arms fire. When its engine began to lose power, the pilot realized he had to get the helicopter away from the area as soon as possible. Instead of climbing into the litter basket so he could leave with the helicopter, Pitsenbarger elected to remain with the Army troops under enemy attack and he gave a "wave-off" to the helicopter which flew away to safety. With heavy mortar and small-arms fire, the helicopters couldn't return to rescue the rescuer. For the next hour and a half, Pitsenbarger attended to wounded soldiers, hacking splints out of snarled vines and building improvised stretchers out of saplings. When the others began running low on ammunition, he gathered ammunition from the dead and distributed them to those still alive. Then, he joined the others with a rifle to hold off the Viet Cong. Pitsenbarger was killed by Viet Cong snipers later that night. When his body was recovered the next day, one hand still held a rifle and the other clutched a medical kit. Although Pitsenbarger did not escape alive, 60 other men did, partially thanks to his courage and their devotion to duty. 

Soon after Pitsenbarger was killed, his Air Force commanders nominated him for the Medal of Honor. An Army general recommended that the award be downgraded to the Air Force Cross, apparently because at the time there was not enough documentation of Pitsenbarger's actions. Pitsenbarger received the Air Force Cross on June 30, 1966. After review and nearly 35 years later, the original award was upgraded. On December 8, 2000, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, the airman's father, William F. Pitsenbarger, and his wife, Alice, accepted the Medal of Honor from Secretary of the Air Force Whit Peters. During the same ceremony he was also posthumously promoted to the rank of Staff sergeant. The audience included battle survivors, hundreds of pararescue airmen, a congressional representative and the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force. Pitsenbarger was the 59th Medal of Honor recipient, and sixth enlisted recipient, from the Air Force and its predecessor organizations.

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