Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

TOP STORY >>Two airmen receive medals

By HEATHER HARTSELL
Leader staff writer

Two recently deployed airmen from the 314th Civil Engineer Squadron were honored in a ceremony at Little Rock Air Force Base on Tuesday for injuries received while in Iraq. SSgt. Matthew Patnaude, who has been deployed to Iraq three times, received his second Purple Heart, and SSgt. Lawrence Lipinski, who has been deployed there once, was awarded the Bronze Star. Both airmen are explosive disposal specialists who were deployed with the 101st Airborne in Kirkuk, Iraq.

Brig. Gen. Kip Self, commander of the 314th Airlift Wing, presented the awards, saying the two airmen showed “dedication and sacrifice to meet their objective under the worst of circumstances.” “What makes them special is that they continue to go forward,” Self said. “It’s never for flag, it’s never for country, but for the guy next to you. The first concern is to never let the person next to you down,” Self said as he described heroism as “being a teammate.”

During the presentation of Patnaude’s Purple Heart with First Oak Leaf Cluster, Self said it was in “small recognition of all he sacrificed for us.” Patnaude’s reply was “I did my job.” Patnaude, a New York native deployed from last July to Dec. 27, was shot by a sniper the day after his 24th birthday – and two days after Christmas – while diffusing a roadside bomb on a main supply route outside Kirkuk Air Base. Of his three deployments, Patnaude has returned with two Purple Hearts. On his second deployment, he sustained hearing damage from an improvised explosive devise (IED).

“It’s not something I wanted or planned on, it’s just part of my job and what I signed up for,” Patnaude said. “I was able to take one for the team and walk away from it.” Bronze Star recipient Lipinski, a 25-year-old-native of Michigan, disarmed more than 60 IEDs on 170 combat missions on his deployment to Kirkuk from last Feb. 21 to Aug. 16. On one of Lipinski’s missions, his team’s vehicle suffered a direct hit by a roadside bomb.

“Being blown up is like being caught in a large wave in the ocean,” Lipinski said. “You have no control of your body. When it’s all done, you hope everything is still attached.” Lipinski is hard of hearing in his left ear because of the explosion. Married almost two years, Lipinski said his wife, Melissa, handled the stress “surprisingly well.”

“It feels really good to be recognized, but I’m hesitant for the recognition because others that were injured were not as recognized and we did the same job,” Lipinski said. Lipinski said he will most likely have to return to Iraq, but he is not nervous, just hesitant to go back again. Both Patnaude and Lipinski continue to recover, performing limited duties.