Two U.S. Air Force pararescue Airmen received the Silver Star Medal in a ceremony Dec. 13, 2019, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., for gallantry in action against enemies of the United States while deployed to Afghanistan.
Tech. Sgt. Gavin Fisher and Staff Sgt. Daniel Swensen were awarded the U.S. Armed Forces’ third highest military combat decoration for saving nearly 40 lives and eliminating more than 100 enemy fighters in two separate combat engagements.
“For some of you, you may ask yourself how these two individuals, in the face of such adversity, performed so admirably,” said Lt. Col. Douglas Holliday, commander of 58th Rescue Squadron. “Airmen like Dan and Gavin are part of a profession that dedicates their lives to a motto ‘That Others May Live.’ A foundation of that motto is a pledge they made going through selection and years of arduous training. In the face of adversity, when Americans and our allies’ lives are on the line, under no circumstance will you quit on them. Never quit.”
Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., Pacific Air Forces commander, echoed Holliday’s sentiments while comparing the actions of Fisher and Swensen to those of yesteryear’s comic book heroes and the rarity of heroes today.
“We can become so absorbed by the tales and the characters and their abilities that we can lose sight of our real-life heroes – heroes like Tech. Sgt. Gavin Fisher and Staff Sgt. Daniel Swensen,” Brown said. “… Only 1 percent of our service men and women, representing 1 percent of the population have received this Silver Star. So, these gentlemen are in a very exclusive club.”
Tech. Sgt. Gavin Fisher — 350th Special Warfare Training Squadron, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas
Fisher was awarded the Silver Star Medal for his gallantry as a pararescue technical rescue specialist while engaged in ground combat against U.S. enemies Aug. 11 and 12, 2018, in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan.
Ultimately, Fisher’s actions saved the lives of 10 critically injured Soldiers, medically evacuated 20 casualties and eliminated 118 Taliban fighters.
Prior to the attack, a Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force was conducting a 10-day crisis response mission to fend off Ghazni City from more than 500 Taliban fighters. Fisher was serving as a rear gunner for the lead vehicle of the convoy, when Taliban fighters struck the armored vehicles with rocket propelled grenades and heavy machine gun fire.
In the midst of the ambush, Fisher was struck by grenade shrapnel; however, he remained focused, firing back at the Taliban and directing his vehicle out of danger. While still fending off two enemy fighters, he provided advanced medical treatment, stopping massive bleeding and administering blood transfusions to two critically injured Soldiers. Fisher then kept his brothers-in-arms stable until a medical evacuation team arrived.
Wounded and refusing to leave with the patients, Fisher was involved in a second ambush. Placing others’ lives before his, he treated five additional critically injured partner force casualties and requested a second medical evacuation.
The Taliban continued to strike Task Force, eventually striking the Mission Support Site and wounding 12 partner force soldiers. Fisher, without hesitation or regard for his safety, maneuvered through 75 meters of heavy machine gun and small arms fire to treat five of the wounded comrades.
Jumping back into the rear gunner seat of his armored vehicle, wounded Fisher manned the heavy machine gun as his team continued clearance operations of the city. Suddenly, a rocket-propelled grenade struck the vehicle, severely wounding Fisher; however, he refused to falter while on guard.
Fisher returned fire and directed his team to safety, before he finally relented to medical care.
“Getting this medal is important because it lets people know the war is still going on, and valiant efforts by men and women are still going forth,” said Fisher. “People are still out there dying and fighting for each other, and it needs to be recognized.”
Staff Sgt. Daniel Swensen — 58th Rescue Squadron, Nellis AFB, Nev.
Swensen was awarded the Silver Star Medal for his gallantry as a pararescueman while engaged in ground combat against U.S. enemies Sept. 13 and 14, 2019, in Farah Province, Afghanistan.
Ultimately, Swensen’s actions directly saved the lives of nine American and partner force Special Operators.
On the night of the attack, Army Special Forces Operational Detachment-Alpha 1215 was conducting a helicopter assault to reclaim the Anar Darah District Center and police headquarters, which were under Taliban control. Simultaneously, Swensen, who was embedded with the Detachment, was leading a ground assault team through a compound, when Taliban fighters initiated an ambush less than 100 meters away.
Within moments, the Taliban were relentlessly sending heavy machine gun fire and rocket propelled grenades into the compound. Eventually, a grenade struck the wall behind Swensen, wounding him and five of his teammates.
Injured, trapped and separated from the support fire team, Swensen remained vigilant as he fired back at the Taliban and directed his partner forces to safety. In the midst of the chaos, he ran through intense enemy fire to rescue a fallen Soldier incapacitated by his injuries. As the gunfire sprayed overhead, Swensen treated the life-threatening wounds before moving him out of danger.
Swensen, continuing to ignore his injuries, grouped the casualties and prepared for extraction. He loaded an injured Soldier onto his shoulders and then directed the team to the helicopter landing zone 800 meters away.
Not long after the group had arrived, the Taliban executed a second ambush with heavy machine gun fire.
With disregard for his safety, Swensen remained exposed to enemy fire to direct the causalities behind cover and then continued treatment of the critically injured. Eventually, the medical evacuation helicopter arrived, and the injured were flown to safety; however, for Swensen, there was still work to be done. He then led the remaining team members back through the city to retrieve four additional casualties before allowing medical attention for his wounds.
“It’s weird to receive so much attention for something that I feel anyone else would’ve done on the battlefield that night,” said Swensen. “I’m honored my peers think I deserve this medal.”