Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today congratulated New York Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Christopher Petersen who was recognized as National Guardsman of the Year by the USO during its annual Gala in Washington D.C. last night. Petersen, of Commack, Long Island, is a full-time member of the 106th Rescue Wing's 103rd Rescue Squadron. He was one of six service members recognized by the USO. The National Guardsman of the Year recognition from the USO, which has provided services to American troops around the world since 1941, is a great honor.
On behalf of all New Yorkers, I congratulate Staff Sgt. Christopher Petersen for his recognition by the USO as National Guardsman of the Year, Governor Cuomo said. During his service in Afghanistan, he put his own life on the line to save three fellow Americans in the face of enemy fire. He is wholly deserving of this award and he has truly made New York proud. His selection by an organization like the USO is also a salute to all members of the New York National Guard. I thank him for his dedication to our state and country.
Petersen is also slated to receive the Bronze Star with Valor device during a December ceremony at F.S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach. The award, which will also be presented to five other members of the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing, recognizes Petersen's heroism under fire during a December 10, 2012 medical evacuation mission in Afghanistan.
Sgt. Petersen was one of six New York Air National Guard pararescue Airmen who responded when four Soldiers -- three Americans and one Afghan -- were critically injured in an ambush near Kandahar, Afghanistan. Petersen repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire as he treated the injured and protected them from incoming fire with his own body. In addition, Petersen repeatedly distinguished himself during demanding pararescue training and has been recognized as Airman of the Year by his own unit, the 106th Rescue Wing and the New York Air National Guard because of his professionalism and dedication to duty.
I just did my job, Petersen said. There are a lot of other people who are just as deserving.
Petersen graduated from Commack High School in 2003, and was a member of the University of Notre Dames class of 2007. After graduation he joined Ernst & Young as a financial analyst but left that job in August 2008 to join the Air National Guard as a pararescue Airman.
Known as Guardian Angels, pararescuemen are trained to rescue people on sea or land by parachuting in or rappelling out of a helicopter. They are experts in small unit tactics, firearms, small boat operations, scuba diving, high altitude parachuting and rescues of every kind. They are also trained to provide medical support and are skilled in survival and ground combat skills. In Afghanistan, Air National Guard pararescuemen like Petersen are often called on to conduct medical evacuation missions while under fire.
After completing Air Force Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, he entered the pararescue training "pipeline" which requires passing Army Airborne School, Army Freefall School, Air Force combat divers training, Air Force emergency medical technician training, and Air Force survival school as well as Navy training in exiting an aircraft underwater. He finished the demanding training program in January 2011.
While at Pararescue School, he received the Charles D. King Award for top academic performer, the Purple Heart Association Award, and the Jason D. Cunningham Award for medical excellence.
"Because of Staff Sergeant Petersen's bravery while serving in Afghanistan, three soldiers are alive today. In those crucial moments he made it possible for three of his comrades to share many more special moments with their friends and family members." said USO Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff John I. Pray, Jr. "Not surprisingly, the USO is immensely proud to be able to thank Staff Sergeant Petersen on behalf of all Americans for his selfless service and heroism."
During two deployments to Afghanistan, Petersen served on more than 85 combat missions. Petersen said he elected to serve as a full-time member of the Air National Guard because he wants to develop the military skills he's honed as a pararescueman.
I enlisted in a time of war and it would be wrong for me to shy away, he explained. Knowing that the people we pick up or treat come back home to their family and friends is pretty meaningful.
Petersen remains active in the community, working with the Boy Scouts of America, the Wounded Warrior Project, the "That Others May Live" Foundation, and the American Cancer Society.