Staff Sgt. Matthew Zimmer receives his second Bronze Star with Valor. (Senior Airman Carissa Cantone/New York Air Nationa)
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Staff Sgt. Matthew Zimmer and five fellow New York Air National Guardsmen made headlines in December when they were each awarded the Bronze Star with Valor for rescuing four critically injured soldiers, both American and Afghan, from an ambush outside an Afghan village on Dec. 10, 2012.
But Zimmer, a member of the 103rd Rescue Squadron of Westhampton, New York, on May 1 was awarded an additional Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster and Valor device for an earlier rescue.
Zimmer — who had volunteered to be an active-duty member of the 46th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron for his first deployment as a pararescueman — was part of a four-member rescue team that responded to an urgent evacuation near Helmand River Valley on Feb. 21, 2012. A Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle operated by Georgian armed forces soldiers hit an improvised explosive device, and all four were trapped inside. Two were critically injured and two died from the impact.
“Ignoring life threatening hazards posed by smoke, flames and randomly detonating ordnance near the overturned vehicle, Sergeant Zimmer attempted to control the fire while manipulating the Jaws of Life to force access into the vehicle,” according to his citation. “While entering the vehicle and holding his breath, a second command wired improvised explosive device activated within three meters of his location, critically wounding an explosive ordnance disposal technician.”
Zimmer and pararescueman Senior Airman Andrew Williamson saw that the U.S. Marine EOD technician couldn’t breathe because injuries impeded his airway. Zimmer administered a field tracheotomy to allow the Marine to breathe and then dragged him to safety. Then he returned to the MRAP to rescue the soldiers, who were medically evacuated, and recover the fallen soldiers.
“While an additional [Marine] got hurt, we came out of this the best we could out of a worsening situation,” Zimmer said in an interview with Air Force Times. “We still came out of it without losing any more people,” he said.
Zimmer, in the Air Force almost 12 years, said being a pararescueman is a satisfying career.
“I was waiting to be a pararescueman for a long time. I mean, who wouldn’t want this job where you help someone out?” he said. “Extraction missions — like downed aircraft, fires — were mostly technical rescue for Air Force rescue units, and when I got there, I didn’t realize the footprint that Air Force rescue had [on the area]. It was huge.”
He and his team were tasked with more than 300 combat search and rescue and medical evacuation missions from December 2011 to May 2012.
Zimmer will deploy again in September.