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Purple Heart presentation
Col. Sandra Finan, 341st Space Wing commander, presents Senior Airman Jonathan Higgins, 341st Security Forces Squadron member, a Purple Heart and an Air Force Combat Action Medal Feb. 8. Airman Higgins volunteered for a 365-day deployment to support Operation Iraqi Freedom and in April 2007, an IED exploded near his HUMVEE and immediately ignited the vehicle into flames, incapacitating the team's interpreter. Airman Higgins climbed out of the turret he was manning and grabbed his M-9 barretta in anticipation of an ambush, ignoring his wounds which included shrapnel to his right calf and second degree burns. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Turner)
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341st SFS Airman awarded Purple Heart, AF Combat Action Medal

Posted 2/12/2008   Updated 2/12/2008 Email story   Print story

    


by Senior Airman Eydie Sakura
341st Space Wing Public Affairs Office


2/12/2008 - MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- An Airman from the 341st Security Forces Squadron received a Purple Heart and an Air Force Combat Action Medal Feb. 8 for his efforts in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom November 2006 to November 2007. 

Senior Airman Jonathan Higgins volunteered for a 365-day deployment to Iraq and was assigned to the 732nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, Detachment 3, as a member of the security forces team in downtown Baghdad. Their mission was to train Iraqi police and assist in their day-to-day operations. 

"[While riding in the HUMVEE] I was a turret gunner manning an M-240 machine gun for my squad," Airman Higgins said. "While at the Iraqi police stations I assisted the Iraqi police with confinement and readiness. I also provided a lot of rooftop security." 

On April 25, 2007, Airman Higgins was performing duties as a turret gunner on the third vehicle in a four vehicle convoy in downtown Baghdad. His convoy was en route to an Iraqi police station when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. 

"We were traveling down the road when we got to an open field on the 9 o'clock side [of the HUMVEE]," the Purple Heart recipient said. "I stood up to cover the area and I heard a kid yelling from the 3 o'clock side [behind Airman Higgins]." 

When he turned around to see who was yelling, the child was pointing at the field across the street. 

"I never saw the flash or heard the boom, but my subconscious knew what had happened," he said. 

The IED immediately ignited the vehicle into flames and incapacitated the interpreter. Airman Higgins climbed out of the turret and grabbed his M-9 barretta in anticipation of an ambush, ignoring his wounds which included shrapnel to his right calf and second degree burns. 

"Our interpreter lost both of his legs instantly and suffered third degree burns on 60 percent of his body. I didn't feel my wounds immediately. My main goal was to get out of the burning HUMVEE," he said. 

Airman Higgins then met up with his truck commander, Malmstrom's Staff Sgt. Michael Rodden, 741st Missile Security Forces Squadron. The two cleared and secured the field but soon heard small-arms fire. 

"We then saw the rounds from my M-240 cooking off," he said. "From the time of the hit to the time we arrived at the combat support hospital was 17 minutes, but if felt like a lifetime." 

Airman Higgins said he was in shock for several days after the explosion and was in disbelief that everyone in his convoy lived. 

"I couldn't think straight for several days after I saw a picture of our HUMVEE," he said.
Col. Sandra Finan, 341st Space Wing commander, presented Airman Higgins his Purple Heart and Air Force Combat Action Medals in front of roughly 130 supporters. 

"We are all proud of Airman Higgins' accomplishments while deployed and here at home station," the wing commander said. "He is a true American hero and we are very, very lucky to have him here today." 

Colonel Finan said the 341st SFS Airman's true character shined through during this ordeal and she realizes he was in a tough situation while deployed. 

"Every day he defends America's most powerful weapon system while stationed at the 341st Space Wing," she said. "To his leaders, co-workers and parents, thank you for making him who he is today. He's an American hero." 

The humbled Airman said he feels awkward receiving the Purple Heart and getting all the attention for his efforts because he watched a lot of his friends get seriously wounded. 

"I lost one of my best friends, Staff Sgt. John T. Self, while we were there," he said. "All I can do is try and maintain a positive image out of respect for him and the others who were wounded. I don't regret the choices I have made or the experiences I have had. I built some good friendships that I know are stronger than any I could have in the states." 



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