TF Thunder Soldier receives Bronze Star, ARCOM with Valor medals
October 18, 2011
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (Oct. 18, 2011) --Capt. Thomas Buller, a platoon leader for Task Force Thunder's (159th Combat Aviation Brigade) Pathfinders, received two awards during a ceremony here Oct. 6 for actions as far back as February 2009.
Buller, of Brookfield, Ill., received an Army Commendation Medal with Valor and a Bronze Star Medal.
The Army Commendation Medal was for an event in February 2009 for a personnel recovery mission outside of Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khowst Province, Afghanistan, when he was attached to Task Force Attack (3rd Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment). The Army Commendation Medal is awarded for distinguishing oneself by heroism, meritorious achievement or meritorious service. The valor device is for specific heroic acts during or supporting direct combat with the enemy.
"There was a vehicle-born improvised explosive device that attacked a U.S. convoy returning to the FOB. The lead vehicle was an up-armored Humvee," Buller said. "It got blown off the road. It killed two guys and trapped and critically injured the third."
"Normally, first responders are from your own unit," Buller said. "We were not part of their unit, but we'd heard the explosion, and we literally jumped on a medevac chase helicopter. No one invited us, but we said, 'Hey, we can go out and help with the tools we have. Let us give it a shot.'"
From the time of the explosion to the time the medevac was in the air was about nine minutes, Buller said.
"We volunteered to go out and extract the guy to try to save him with our medevac chase birds," Buller said. "We assaulted into where the kill zone was. The vehicle was still on fire from the explosion. The passenger was trapped. We had to take our armor off to get to him. The ground commander recommended we leave because he thought the vehicle was going to explode -- there was still a lot of live ordnance in there. We were open to ambush, too. Still, we went in there and cut him out with the extractions tools we had, which was difficult because the tools were designed to cut through helicopters, not through armor."
The TF Thunder Soldiers successfully extracted the patient, conducted first aid and got him out on a medevac flight. He was in surgery within the hour.
Buller kept a cool head by relying on his training. Drill, organization and teamwork were the key to the success of this mission, he said.
Buller also received the Bronze Star Medal for his service in Afghanistan from February to May 2011, when he was attached to Task Force Wings (4th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment). The Bronze Star is the fourth-highest combat award of the U.S. Armed Services and the ninth-highest military award (including both combat and non-combat awards) in the order of precedence of U.S. military decorations.
"We built a partnership from the ground up with the 2nd Afghan National Civil Order of Police," Buller said. "We (the Pathfinders and the 2nd ANCOP) started conducting hasty air assaults and they became very good at them. (We worked together) destroying the lethal aid network -- homemade explosives. And we partnered with all kinds of interagency groups."
The awards he received are worn by individuals, but earned by -- and represent -- teams, Buller said.
"It's more for the guys who work with you," Buller said. "I couldn't have done this without a good platoon sergeant to groom me to be lieutenant I was, or the company commander to groom me into the leader I became. It's for the organization. I see it as a celebration of the culture that we have in the Army -- the selfless service -- not so much for personal recognition."