JINSA bestows Grateful Nation Award to military heroes

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While their protectors face danger in the field of battle, many Americans go about their everyday lives oblivious to the hard work and sacrifice of American troops and their families.

This week six service members selected by their respective branches (the four branches of the military, the Coast Guard, and the U.S. Special Operations) received the Grateful Nation Award — one posthumously — for their heroism. The honorees were Staff Sergeant Christopher B. Waiters from the Army, Corporal Darrel Hickey from the Marines, Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Adam L. Brown from the Navy, Staff Sergeant Christopher N. Freeman from the Air Force, Petty Officer (SEAL) Corey S. Novotny from Special Ops., and Petty Officer Second Class Brendon Ramos from the Coast Guard

Presented by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the award recognizes stories of commitment that represent the daily heroics of all those who serve the nation in uniform. The Daily Caller had the opportunity to speak with some of the honorees and their families and was given the distinct privilege to relaying their stories.

Staff Sergeant Waiters received the Grateful Nation Award for his courageous work in Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he risked his life as his company’s senior medic avoiding small arms fire to save two wounded soldiers and recover one fallen soldier when a Bradley Fighting Vehicle was struck by an Improvised Explosive Device and began to burn with its occupants inside. Waiters entered the vehicle several times to evacuate those still within the vehicle. Waiters has endured seven deployments, four of them combat tours. Energetic and enthusiastic about his job, when asked how long he intends to continue to serve, Waiters responded, “I’m doing 30 [years].” He is the only medic to have won the Distinguished Service Cross.

Corporal Hickey received the award for his exceptional courage in Afghanistan. When his mounted patrol was ambushed by medium machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades, wounding the vehicle commander in the process, Hickey engaged the enemy and killed several combatants, preventing the enemy from “massing fire on his vehicle.” For his deeds, he received the Silver Star for gallantry. He has been in the service for four years and is eager to stay in.

“’I’ll be re-enlisting for another four years in infantry and probably going to be going back to Afghanistan a couple more times,” he said. “I want to go back because it’s my job, I’m in the infantry, and I enjoy my job, so I want to go back extremely badly.’

Chief Petty Officer Brown received his award posthumously. As a member of an assault team for a Joint Task Force, Brown gave his life in March to protect his fellow team members while under extreme gunfire in a mountainous region of Afghanistan controlled by enemy combatants. He served for twelve years earning a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

His widow, Kelly Brown, having lost Brown just eight months ago, continues to mourn the loss of her husband and the father of their ten year old son and seven year old daughter.

“[My kids are] not [doing] too good. They’re getting better. It’s almost eight months and we’ve made a lot of changes,” she said. “They’re strong little kids – they’re super strong. I tell them everyday I’m amazed at their strength because I don’t have it. I don’t have what they have. Thankfully, God’s given them some sort of little barrier to pain and to sadness.”

Despite her sadness, she remains proud of the sacrifice her husband made for his country.

“He loved his job. Absolutely loved it. We had the conversation right before he left….about if this were to happen and, of course, you never think it’s going to happen. But he did sacrifice for something that he was passionate [about] and loved [it], and that’s America and America’s values and what we stand for. So I’m proud of him,”  she said.

Staff Sergeant Freeman, a pararescue team leader, refused to leave his team to accept the award. He remains deployed in Afghanistan. He was given the award for his multiple heroic actions in Afghanistan, including saving the lives of three soldiers on a casualty evacuation mission while sustaining enemy fire and saving all five Marines injured by an improvised explosive device. During his time thus far on the ground, Freeman, who is often away in secret locations and out of contact for weeks on end, has treated 147 patients and saved 98 lives. His wife and parents accepted the award for him.

Freeman’s mother, Mary, said that her son is a special and rare breed. “Oh gosh, he’s just has a good heart,” she said. “He likes [a] challenge, very physical, and he did research on what branch of the military he wanted to join and pararescue was something he would strive hard to do, to meet that challenge. And he enjoys it.”

Petty Officer Second Class Ramos received the award for his exceptional service as a Tactical Law Enforcement Boarding Officer in the Caribbean aboard the USS San Jacinto and USS Farragut. In that role, he engaged five counter-piracy vessel boardings and brought about the detention of upwards of 53 pirates while acquiring a large weapons cache in the process. He further acted to save five Yemeni fishermen held captive by 15 pirates at sea. Additionally, his vast experience in the field and adroit abilities as a sailor earned him the a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal when he rescued a member of his team who, while attempting to board a pirate ship, fell overboard in rough weather.

When Ramos got the news he was receiving the award, he didn’t even know what he had done to earn it. “We just did so much over there,” he said, explaining several of his vast number of missions. He has been in the service for about 12 and a half years, and is planning to remain for the final eight.