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Military medical heroes honored for service above and beyond

Image of Four military personnel shown during a Zoom call. Four of the awardees participated remotely during the Angels of the Battlefield Awards ceremony held virtually in Washington, D.C this October. (DoD Courtesy Photo.)

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Some awards are meant to be put on a resume; the reasons for those given to real heroes should be seared into the collective memory.

As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark. Milley recently noted, the service and sacrifice of heroes is “a core strength of our military's resolve and skill."

On October 27, medics, corpsmen, doctors, nurses and other medical personnel were were recognized for putting those fabled strengths into action at the Armed Services YMCA's 14th annual Angels of the Battlefield Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.

The awards are given for selfless courage and unwavering sacrifice for actions from the past and present. Angels are nominated from each service for saving lives on the front lines overseas or during emergencies at home.

At age 100, the ‘Angel of Honor’ was bestowed on former Army 2nd Lt. Regina Benson, a member of the Army Nurse Corps during World War II, and the country’s oldest military nurse. From 1944 to 1946 she served in Army hospitals in the Pacific Theater, including during the Battle of Okinawa and the post-war occupation of Japan. “I made sure that my patients never died alone,” she remembered, “I was always there with them.”

Air Force Staff Sergeant Nicholas Brunetto, served as a medic with the Army Green Berets team when they were ambushed at close range in February 2020 in Afghanistan. Brunetto not only managed the evacuation of nearly a dozen patients while under attack, but also perform a blood transfusion while under enemy gunfire to save a soldier’s life. Brunetto later said he had not expect being awarded for his service: “A lot of it was just being there and doing a job I had volunteered for.”

Navy Hospital Corpsman First Class William McGrath, was attached to a Fleet Marine Forces team in January 2020 in East Africa, where he served as both as a shooter and as a medic in the face of an enemy attack on an American command center and airfield. McGrath not only saved the life of a wounded team member, but treated multiple injured firefighters and security forces.  “You’re a medic first and a shooter always,” McGrath recalled, “Your jobs really go hand in hand once there is a casualty.”

Coast Guard Aviation Survival Technician Second Class James Chandler saved a woman’s life during Tropical Storm Imelda in 2019 by performing CPR on her for over 30 minutes. An immigrant from England, he came to the U.S. to play pro football, but gained hero status upon becoming a citizen and rescue swimmer in uniform. “Looking back … two things come to mind: Very fortunate that I was able to fly on that case with such a great crew and also just very humbled in regard to how precious life is. … There’s no doubt in my mind that I have the best job in the world.”

Army Sergeant First Class Kyle Wagner, a combat medic on a mission in Afghanistan in June 2013, was just one week into his deployment, when an IED exploded10 feet from him. Injured and unable to hear, he organized the medical evacuation while searching for casualties, pulled other soldiers to safety and started triage. “We will do whatever it takes to save our guys … because we care; that’s what we’re here for.”

The identity of a Navy Seal based in California remains confidential, due to the sensitive nature of his current deployment. He was recognized for tending to more than 200 patients during an overseas mission from 2019 to 2020. “I wish I could share how appreciative I am in person,” he wrote to those attending the ceremony, “However, I am currently deployed.”

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