Nearly four years after saving the lives of four comrades pinned down by gunfire in Afghanistan, an Alaska Air National Guard pararescueman received the nation's third-highest decoration for valor in recognition of his selfless acts.
Master Sgt. Roger Sparks, a member of the 212th Rescue Squadron, was awarded the Silver Star in a Friday ceremony on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, according to a statement from Guard spokesperson Capt. John Callahan.
The award recognizes Sparks’ actions on Nov. 14, 2010 during Operation Bulldog Bite, when he and another member of the 212th -- Capt. Koaalii Bailey -- were lowered by helicopter under fire from insurgents into the Watapur Valley, following a call to extract casualties from heavy combat with insurgents.
“Upon touchdown they were both blown off their feet by a rocket-propelled grenade, and Sparks instructed the flight crew via radio not to lower any more personnel due to the high volume of fire,” Callahan wrote. “Under fire from three directions, the pair began communicating with nearby Coalition aircraft to direct air strikes against insurgent positions. Making contact with forces on the ground, they then began to consolidate the wounded and provide treatment.”
Still being attacked by the enemy, Sparks was able to apply his skills to saving his comrades.
“Despite the threat of continued enemy fire and with no concern for his personal safety, Master Sgt. Sparks immediately began administering lifesaving procedures with his limited supply of first-aid gear,” according to Sparks' citation. “When he exhausted his medical supplies, he improvised using belts, T-shirts or boot strings in a desperate attempt to keep his patients alive.”
Sparks says the most important outcome of his actions isn’t the award, but rather the U.S. lives he was able to help save that night.
“To have a father sit down with a shaky hand writing a letter to you, thanking you for saving his son's life, it just rips your heart out,” Sparks said. “It just -- it's like, my life, it's OK if I die. I've given back more than I've received -- I've given of myself, and that's all we can do.”
Karl Beilby, one of the service members rescued by Sparks, says he truly earned Friday’s honor.
“Anybody that's willing to slide down a cable into a firefight of that intensity deserves an award like this, and that goes for Sergeant Sparks and his team,” Beilby said.
In addition to those who came back alive, Callahan says Sparks’ actions allowed for the recovery of four Americans’ bodies from the action.
Channel 2’s Austin Baird contributed information to this story.