Three airmen awarded Purple Heart at Travis AFB

January 5, 2012 6:52:00 PM PST
While the Pentagon makes changes, the men and women who search out and destroy roadside bombs will keep doing what they do despite the danger. On Thursday, four of those heroes, injured by the IED's they were trying to disarm, were honored by Travis Air Force Base.

They are the kinds of injuries that USAF Tech Sgt. Ronnie Brickey might describe to his daughter later, much later. "For me, between the traumatic injury, hearing loss in the left ear, I lost some skin on the left side of my face, left arm, I was fragged, I had rocks and sand embedded in my skin," he said describing them to ABC7.

It's the same for USAF Staff Sgt. David Adkins. "I got knocked out, lost all hearing in my left ear, perforated eardrum," he recalled of his own injuries. Does it sound like a pattern?

"The neck, I got cracked vertebrae and it kind of got misaligned, so they had to fuse two vertebrae together to kind of keep it in line," said USAF Staff Sgt. Brian Buhrer describing his injuries.

These injuries explain the overflow crowd that was at Travis Air Force Base Thursday. Every man and woman was there to see the awarding of this nation's oldest military honor, the Purple Heart.

"It's the one award I think nobody wants because you've got get hurt or you've got to die," Adkins said.

"We are honoring heroes. Heroes that have sacrificed themselves," USAF Airman 1st Class Erica Richards told ABC7. And, it was not in a way you might expect for Air Force personnel. All of the men specialize in disarming improvised explosive devices, those small weapons that have killed so many servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the Air Force, men like them suffer a disproportionate number of casualties and yet, they prefer this duty and expect to go back.

Brickey's wife Miko has stayed at home through five deployments. "Does he tell you what he deals with over there? Do you want to know?" she was asked. "He does a little but, but he has to keep a lot of it inside," she said.

"It's for the guys there. I know I do my job very well and if I'm there, I know I can save lives and that's all that matters," Brickey told ABC7. In this crowd, this is about what one would expect to hear from a Purple Heart winner, an award that may define these men to other people, but not to themselves.

When asked what the difference was now in being a Purple Heart winner, Adkins replied, "Not much. Just go back to my job, do the same thing every day and keep trucking."