STS Airman earns distinguished rescue award

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Aaron Cram
  • 353rd Special Operations Group
Members of the Air Rescue Association named Senior Airman Salvatore Portelli, a pararescueman from the 320th Special Tactics Squadron, as the association's 2010 Richard T. Kight Award winner during a recent ceremony at the ARA's annual reunion in Sacramento, Calif.

The award is named in honor of Brig. Gen. Richard T. Kight, the first commander of the Air Rescue Service, and is presented annually to recognize an active duty or reserve component member who has contributed to the overall effectiveness of the rescue mission area through management, innovation or other outstanding achievement.

"It was truly an honor to receive this award from the Air Rescue Association," said Airman Portelli. "When I go to work, my mindset is to give everything I have to the task at hand ... not to win awards. I feel blessed just to be nominated for the award, winning it just makes it that much more special. This night will be one of the most cherished memories for my family and me."

Several of Airman Portelli's achievements that helped him earn this award occurred during a four-month deployment supporting a special operations task force during Operation Enduring Freedom. During the deployment, he was the primary medic responding to a collision between an AH-1 and an UH-1 which resulted in the team being placed in enemy territory to recover six personnel and sensitive equipment. Airman Portelli led efforts to extract and safely recover all personnel for further treatment to a combat support hospital. Airman Portelli also initiated rescue efforts on a second mission to recover an U.S. Army Solider that had fallen into a 70-foot well during a night tactical mission. He was inserted into a landing zone to set up a complex rope system for extrication of the solider. He then treated life threatening hypothermia and multiple fractures, ultimately saving his life. Airman Portelli also flew 70 combat missions, crawled into burning helicopter wreckage to rescue two people in a hostile combat zone and extracted and delivered immediate trauma care to seven critically injured Soldiers following an improvised explosive device attack.

To his leadership, Airman Portelli's actions while deployed are no surprise because of the tenacity he applies to his training and tasks at home station.

"The tremendous courage and professionalism of Senior Airman Salvatore Portelli provide a glimpse of what the special tactic warriors of the 320th STS and the 353rd SOG are all about," said Maj. John Traxler, 320th STS commander. "His performance has been recognized above all of those in the rescue community, and I am immensely proud to see his award in the halls of the Pentagon. Hearing his story only touches on the selfless nature of his service, and the measures he goes in the pursuit of saving lives. There are folks out there that would not be here today if not for his quick thinking, strong character and extraordinary abilities. To know Sal, his beautiful family, and the company that he keeps, is to know the heart of the 353rd SOG and why we do what we do ... that others may live. I for one take great pride in serving with him and his teammates, that I may play a small part in their heroic endeavors."

Airman Portelli's leadership said his determination to educate himself and his teammates between missions also helped set him apart from his peers. He completed 95 percent upgrade training and became helicopter alternate insertion extraction cast master certified months ahead of schedule. He also taught elite U.S. Army Rangers and Special Operations Forces mountain climbing, rappelling and extraction tactics and advanced tactical combat casualty care during his deployment. Airman Portelli also built an aggressive 5-day training plan with a U.S. Navy helicopter unit that helped Airmen train on 30 mission-essential tasks.

In addition, Airman Portelli has been instrumental on numerous Joint Chiefs of Staff- directed exercises, foreign internal defense missions, and mission essential training tasks throughout the Pacific area of operation.