Vandenberg defenders profiled in "Portraits in Courage"

Senior Airman Matthew R. Myhra, 30th Security Forces Squadron, patrols a convoy at Ali Al Saleem Air Base, Kuwait.  Airman Myhra aided in the rescue of a Kuwaiti pilot after his aircraft crashed near the base.  Airman Myhra sustained burns during the rescue and was released back to work the next day.  (Courtesy Photo)

Senior Airman Matthew R. Myhra, 30th Security Forces Squadron, patrols a convoy at Ali Al Saleem Air Base, Kuwait. Airman Myhra aided in the rescue of a Kuwaiti pilot after his aircraft crashed near the base. Airman Myhra sustained burns during the rescue and was released back to work the next day. (Courtesy Photo)

Staff Sgt. Lealofi N. Lealofi (left), 30th Security Forces Squadron, interacts with the local children in Baghdad, Iraq.  Sergeant Lealofi helped to prevent the deaths of more than 100 Iraqi civilians by taking charge during a fire in a local apartment complex. (Courtesy Photo)

Staff Sgt. Lealofi N. Lealofi (left), 30th Security Forces Squadron, interacts with the local children in Baghdad, Iraq. Sergeant Lealofi helped to prevent the deaths of more than 100 Iraqi civilians by taking charge during a fire in a local apartment complex. (Courtesy Photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- In an effort to recognize the ongoing heroism and accomplishments of Vandenberg Airman in deployed locations around the world, this web site will continue to post "Portraits in Courage," a synopsis of courageous acts performed by the men and women of Vandenberg AFB while deployed in support of the Global War on Terror.

Staff Sergeant Lealofi N. Lealofi

On February 23, 2006, while deployed to the 732nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, Detachment 3 in Baghdad, Iraq, Vandenberg defender Staff Sgt. Lealofi N. Lealofi was performing a dismounted community policing patrol in the Al Qadesiyah Apartment Complex, also known as the "215 Apartments."

During the patrol, an Iraqi teenager alerted Sergeant Lealofi of a burning building in the 10,000-resident apartment complex. Knowing the building was not equipped with smoke detectors or fire-suppression equipment, Sergeant Lealofi, along with his partner, asked the teenager to serve as their interpreter and ran to the building. Arriving on scene, they discovered a flame-engulfed building with black smoke swelling from the second floor. Although they immediately called the fire department, they were not content to jeopardize the lives of the residents by waiting until the fire department arrived on scene.

Without hesitation, Sergeant Lealofi, his partner and the interpreter selflessly charged into the eight-story, smoke-filled building and attempted to locate the fire and rescue residents. By the time they reached the third floor, the thick smoke completely obscured all visibility.

In a display of exemplary leadership under pressure, Sergeant Lealofi turned to his partner and instructed him to evacuate the first two floors while he and the interpreter stayed behind to open windows in the enclosed stairwell.

Sergeant Lealofi soon realized that his attempts to ventilate the stairwell and access the third floor were fruitless. He also discovered that although the smoke was spreading, the fire was not. Concluding the upper-floor Iraqi residents were actually in more danger trying to exit the building than staying in place, Sergeant Lealofi quickly exited the building and instructed the residents on the top floors to close their doors, open their windows, and remain calm until the fire department arrived.

To restrict access to the area and prevent injury to others around the building, Sergeant Lealofi and his partner then set up a protective cordon around the building.

Once the fire department arrived and gained control of the fire, Sergeant Lealofi and his partner reentered the still smoky building and safely evacuated the remaining residents.
Sergeant Lealofi's courageous act most likely saved the lives of 50 Iraqi civilians and prevented hundreds more from suffering serious smoke inhalation injuries.

Originally from American Samoa, Sergeant Lealofi's name means "Lionheart", an appropriate title based on his selfless courage and larger-than-life personality.

Senior Airman Matthew R. Myhra

On April 6, 2005, Vandenberg defender Senior Airman Matthew Myhra and his partner patrolled the dusty outer perimeter of Ali Al Salem AB, Kuwait. While conducting a routine sector sweep, Airman Myhra heard a loud explosion and simultaneously observed two pilots eject from their aircraft at a dangerously low-altitude.

While Airman Myhra's partner hurried to assist the injured Kuwaiti pilot that had ejected clear of the crash site, Airman Myhra ran towards the burning wreckage of the aircraft where the other pilot was trapped and in grave danger. Sighting the parachute flailing within the billow of the thick black smoke, he rushed in and dragged the injured pilot away from the intense heat and flames of the crash site.

Once clear of the wreckage, the wind caught the parachute and began dragging the pilot, making it impossible for the parachute to be released. Fighting against the wind and excessive weight, Airman Myhra stabilized the pilot, ejection seat and the parachute long enough to allow the pilot to detach the parachute from its harness.

Airman Myhra's self aid buddy care training then took over.

Recognizing the pilot was having difficulty breathing, Airman Myhra quickly removed the pilot's mask which alleviated the airway obstruction and calmed the pilot's growing panic. Airman Myhra continued to provide first aid on the barely conscious pilot until he was airlifted out of the area by helicopter.

Immediately after the incident, Airman Myhra was rushed to the base trauma ward, where he was treated for major smoke inhalation. Thanks to the expert care and skill of the medical personnel, Airman Myhra was stabilized and back on duty patrolling the base's perimeter within 24 hours.