By Michael Golembesky
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. — Dangerous conditions, long hours, back-breaking work and always keeping one eye on the fire is what the Cheyenne Mountain firefighters endured during this summer’s 14,000-acre Black Forest fire.
And for their actions and courage, 27 members of the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station fire department were awarded the Air Force Command Civilian Award for Valor Medal during a ceremony held at the mountain complex Nov. 13.
“Our firefighters immediately answered the county’s request for help and selflessly put their lives at risk to save others and protect property in the worst wild fire in Colorado history,” said Col. Travis Harsha, 721st Mission Support Group and CMAFS installation commander.
The Air Force Command Civilian Award for Valor Medal, a civilian award similar to the Airman’s Medal, recognizes Air Force civilian personnel who demonstrate courage or competence in assisting others in an emergency, beyond the call of duty.
“For six days, these brave heroes maintained a furious pace of 24-hour operations, rotating between day and night, intense 12-hour shifts, carrying 45 pounds of gear, hiking numerous miles, battling fatigue and extreme heat to help suppress this violent fire,” said Harsha.
Harsha read aloud the citation and presented each firefighter with their medal during an awards ceremony attended by family, friends and colleagues at the CMAFS fire station.
“Years of training and experience enabled our team to be of assistance to the community. I’m extremely proud of our firefighters, they deserve recognition for their dedicated service,” said Christopher Soliz, CMAFS Fire Department assistant chief for training.
Earning an Air Force Command Civilian Award for Valor Medal is rare, so rare that this was the first time Harsha had seen it awarded during his 22-year career.
“Being awarded this medal is a great honor and it’s a privilege to be part of this great team,” said Eric Miller, CMAFS firefighter.
The firefighter’s citations reflected the task, courage and impact they made on the outcome of the fire — persistent courage while battling fatigue and tremendous heat to circumvent the overwhelming temper of the violent fire — which resulted in the control and final extinguishment of the blaze, limiting the destruction and saving 3,678 homes from destruction.
“I’m extremely proud, honored and humbled to recognize these heroes for their selfless service, sacrifice and dedication to help protect and save our community,” said Harsha.
Harsha presented the following Cheyenne Mountain AFS — Fire and Emergency Services Flight members with the Air Force Command Civilian Award for Valor Medal.
Chris Miller, fire chief
David Arcilla, assistant fire chief
Dale Ross, assistant fire chief
Matthew Backeberg, fire inspector
Elias Kunishige, squad boss
Justin Ochsendorf, assistant chief for operations
David Pritchard, crew chief
Joshua Sexton, crew chief
Christopher Soliz, assistant chief for training
Brian Zimmerman, squad boss