Salutes & Awards

July 6, 2012

Thunderbolts recognized for combat contributions

by Airman 1st Class Grace Lee
56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Brig. Gen. JD Harris, 56th Fighter Wing commander, presents the Purple Heart June 29 to Master Sgt. Jordan Velissariou, 56th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle fleet manager at Luke Air Force Base. While deployed to Iraq in 2006, Velissarious’ femoral artery was crushed after a series of attacks on his truck during a convoy.

Four Thunderbolts from the 56th Logistics Readiness Squadron received recognition June 29 for their contributions in combat. Master Sgt. Iordanis Velissariou was awarded the Purple Heart, while Tech. Sgt. Miranda May, Staff Sgt. Steven Wilson and Airman 1st Class Dane Pratt each received the Air Force Combat Action Medal.

In January 2006 while traveling an alternate supply route in central Iraq, Velissariou’s convoy team was attacked by the enemy with an improvised explosive device, small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. Velissariou’s vehicle, an M915 tactical truck tractor, was directly targeted. Injured, Velissariou immediately led his team out of the kill zone while still enduring heavy enemy fire. Thirty minutes later, he was attacked for a second time and was again able to exit the kill zone. Despite his injuries, Velissariou was able to account for his team through constant radio communication with his convoy commander and gun truck escorts.

“It felt like everything was in slow motion — like in a movie,” said Velissariou, 56th LRS vehicle fleet manager. “There was an IED explosion in front of the convoy on the left side of the road, so I quickly veered off the road to avoid the hole created by the IED. Right after that, a rocket propelled grenade hit my truck, skipping off the hood and exploding, which caused me to veer back onto the road to avoid the explosion.”

Velissariou explained that the explosion itself caused his truck to jolt and shake, which resulted in him getting pinned up under his steering wheel crushing the femoral artery in his right leg.

A few days later, while in Kuwait, he noticed a bruise on his right leg.

“I didn’t think much of it at the time,” he said. “It was just a bruise, and it eventually went away.”

Then in late 2009, the pain in his right leg became unbearable. After several doctor visits, his doctor asked him if he’d ever been in a car accident or pinned under something. Velissariou tied it to the incident in Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Emon Leatham, 56th LRS vehicle maintenance technician, said he remembers when he first saw Velissariou’s vehicle after the ambush.

“There were bullet holes and shrapnel throughout the side of the cab,” he said. “I was in disbelief.”

Leatham said the traumatic events of the deployment brought the unit closer together.

“The deployment made us family,” he said. “It was a benchmark for the Air Force since we were the first ones to do something like this. Now, no matter where we are in the world, we still keep in touch — like brothers and sisters.”

Although his deployment was both physically and emotionally stressful, Velissariou said he would do it again.

“My team was made up of some of the bravest young men and women I’ve served with in my 21 years, I will never have another deployment like that ever again,” he said. “We all felt like we made a difference, and that was the best pay off.”

May, Wilson and Pratt were traveling Main Supply Route Tampa in central Iraq in May 2011 when their convoy was attacked by the enemy with small-arms fire and RPGs. The three 56th LRS vehicle operators then employed evasive driving maneuvers, directing the convoy through the kill zone while under heavy enemy fire. All seven vehicles in the convoy received damage from small-arms fire but remained mission capable. May, Wilson and Pratt were cited as displaying outstanding teamwork through deliberate radio communication, which prevented the loss of life.

“It’s a great honor to have been awarded the Air Force Combat Action Medal, because we aren’t often recognized for being in combat, and it also gives people a better understanding of what we do,” said May, 56th LRS NCO-in-charge of operator records and licensing.

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