New York Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Christopher Petersen, of the 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton, was recognized as National Guardsman of the Year by the USO during its annual Gala in Washington D.C. on October 25.
Hailing from Commack, Petersen is a full-time member of the 106th Rescue Wing’s 103rd Rescue Squadron.
Governor Andrew Cuomo congratulated Petersen on behalf of all New Yorkers. “During his service in Afghanistan, he put his own life on the line to save three fellow Americans in the face of enemy fire,” Cuomo said. “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.”
According to the governor’s office, Petersen is also slated to receive the Bronze Star with Valor device during a December ceremony at Westhampton’s Gabreski Air National Guard Base. “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,” Cuomo’s office stated.
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 Dame’s 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.
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. 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,” USO Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff John I. Pray, Jr. said. “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.”
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 said. “Knowing that the people we pick up or treat come back home to their family and friends is pretty meaningful.”