TOP STORY >>Base awards medals
Leader staff writer
In a celebration of military heritage, Brig. Gen. Wayne Schatz, commander of Little Rock Air Force Base, pinned three of the Air Force’s top medals on six service members from the past and present in a medal presentation ceremony on base Friday.
Schatz, service members at LRAFB and community members recognized three local veterans from the Vietnam era, who returned with the country’s highest decorations for bravery while serving in that conflict, but were never properly recognized and never personally presented their decorations.
“What we do today is set things right and recognize them publicly – do things proper,” Schatz said. “We’ve learned some lessons over the years, and recognizing our heroes is something we hold important for our armed forces, both past, present and future,” the general added.
Capt. Ret. Jerry R. Johnson and Tech. Sgt. Ret. Roy E. Mattocks were presented the Distinguished Flying Cross for their brave actions while performing their duties during Vietnam.
Master Sgt. Ret. James D. Smith was presented his Bronze Star and Purple Heart earned during his two tours in Vietnam.
Three current Little Rock airmen — Lt. Col. Geoffrey S. Ellazar, Tech. Sgt. Arnold E. Aschenbeck and Tech. Sgt. Darrell J. Horka — also received the Bronze Star for their service in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Johnson served 12 years in the Air Force, from 1960-72, and was assigned to LRAFB as a navigator in the 61st Airlift Squadron at one time. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his extraordinary achievement on Dec. 6, 1970 while flying at night, armed reconnaissance mission on an AC-130 gunship in Laos.
According to the medal citation, Johnson’s actions led to the damage or destruction of 12 hostile supply vehicles and, without regard for his personal safety in the face of 220 rounds of hostile anti-aircraft fire, destroyed large amounts of supplies and ammunition destined for use against friendly forces.
Mattocks spent 21 years in the Air Force, ending his career as a first sergeant for the 16th AS, the predecessor to the 53rd AS.
He began as an aircraft mechanic and crew chief, and while serving in Vietnam in 1968 as a flight engineer, flew C-130 re-supply, container delivery airdrop missions to South Vietnamese troops at a remote outpost. In four passes over the drop zone, Mattocks and his fellow crewmembers were shot at by the Vietcong three times as they successfully delivered four loads of needed supplies.
Smith served in the Army for 20 years and was part of the 101st Airborne. During his first tour to Vietnam in 1965 as part of the 32nd Combat Engineers clearing road mines in-country, a sniper shot him, earning him the Purple Heart.
He received the Bronze Star during his second tour to Vietnam in 1969 while serving as a platoon leader for Company G, 801st Maintenance Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, Airmobile.
“His dedication to duty and professionalism contributed to the successful completion of convoy missions,” Johnson’s Bronze Star citation states.
Ellazar, deputy commander of the 314th Mission Support Group at LRAFB, received the Bronze Star for his service while serving as the inaugural commander for a unit in Balad, Iraq.
As commander from December 2006 to June 2007, his leadership over 390 rotational airmen delivered unparallel support to 12 Army and coalition joint task force mission areas across Iraq.
This was Ellazar’s second Bronze Star. He received his first for work during a prior rotation in Iraq.
Aschenbeck, a member of the 314th Readiness Squadron, and Horka, part of the 314th Logistics Readiness Squadron, received their Bronze Stars for what the general described as their “fantastic job leading their airmen” while commanding ground convoy missions.
“They did a phenomenal job getting the job done in what is traditionally not an Air Force mission,” Schatz said.
Aschenbeck successfully completed 13 convoy missions during 104 days in the Iraq area of responsibility; Horka successfully completed 14 convoy missions in 102 days.
Schatz said it was important to all families to see their loved ones properly recognized.
“We couldn’t do our duty without your love and support and we thank you for that,” he said.