By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 16, 2007 - Six U.S. military members recognized by a local patriotic organization for their overseas service in the war on terror also received Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' personal thanks here yesterday evening. "You are the best, and we all owe you. And, in all sincerity, we're all humbled by you," Gates told the Grateful Nation Award recipients at the start of his remarks at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs' annual award dinner.
"It's surreal," Grateful Nation Award honoree Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Jason T. Fetty said of his meeting with Gates. He said the experience was "an incredible honor."
Fetty received the Silver Star for actions in Afghanistan in February, when he stopped a suicide bomber from killing hundreds of innocent people at a hospital opening in Khost. The staff sergeant forcibly maneuvered the would-be killer away from the crowd when the bomb went off.
Fetty, who's recovering from his wounds from the blast, said he was pleased to learn later that the grateful Afghans had staged a huge anti-Taliban demonstration after the incident.
Other 2007 Grateful Nation Award recipients are:
-- Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jose Romero,
-- Navy Lt. Seth A. Stone,
-- Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Jesse K. Gitchel,
-- Air Force Staff Sgt. Elizabeth C. Spradley, and
-- Air Force Staff Sgt. Ryan A. Wallace.
It was "terrific" to visit with the servicemembers, Gates said as he thanked each one prior to the start of the dinner. "It's such an honor to be with them and meet them," he said.
Spradley, an explosive ordnance disposal technician, helped clear more than 5,000 miles of Iraqi roads from improvised explosive devices during her recent tour of duty in Kirkuk. She participated in 170 high-risk missions and neutralized 35 improvised explosive devices and two car bombs.
"We would disarm and mitigate any hazards along the roadways in Iraq," Spradley recalled, noting she was too focused on her missions to be distracted by the danger.
She said meeting the defense secretary and receiving the JINSA award "truly are an honor."
Stone, a Navy SEAL special warfare operations specialist, earned two Silver Stars and a Bronze Star with a "V" device for valor for service in Ramadi, Iraq, in September 2006, where he led his team in fighting off a group of insurgents that threatened to destroy another SEAL unit.
Coast Guardsman Gitchel was in temporary command of a 110-foot-long cutter when he and his crew stared down a group of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-crewed ships in the North Arabian Gulf in August 2007. The Iranians were threatening Iraqi oil rigs.
Romero served with distinction in combat with a tank battalion that participated in the drive to Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom in the spring of 2003. Afterward, he became a renowned Marine drill instructor noted for his leadership and team-building skills used in molding the lives of young Marines.
Wallace is an air combat controller who earned the Silver Star medal for more than 24 hours of continuous work calling in airstrikes against insurgents during combat in Najaf, Iraq, during his October 2006 to April 2007 service in Iraq. About 250 insurgents were killed in the battle.
"It was a surprise, and it is an honor, as well," Wallace said of receiving the Grateful Nation Award. Meeting Gates was an awesome experience, he added.
Gates received the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs Henry M. Jackson award for his contributions to national security as a former career Central Intelligence Agency officer who worked his way up to director. Later, Gates was a key national security advisor, and he now serves as defense secretary. Previous Jackson Award recipients include Vice President Richard B. Cheney and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace.
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright assisted David P. Steinmann, chairman of JINSA's board of advisors, during the Grateful Nation Award ceremony. Cartwright saluted the awardees as well as all U.S. servicemen and women engaged in the war against terrorism.
"These young people will just flat knock your socks off," the four-star general said. "They are our greatest generation and our greatest treasure, and we should never forget that."
"I think nothing gives JINSA greater institutional gratification than tonight," Steinmann said before the servicemembers' award ceremony. "We need our Grateful Nation Award winners. They represent the best that our country can produce.
"We need to be reminded that our country produces men and women like this," Steinmann said.