Six USAF airmen, including four from RAF Lakenheath, have been awarded the Spanish Cross of Aeronautical Merit for their actions after a fatal crash during a NATO exercise.
The medals were presented by the Spanish Minister of Defence, Pedro Morenes, to Lakenheath-based Gregory Swarz, Eli Gordon, 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and Senior Airmen Matthew Jeffers and Nevin Wolsleben, 48th AMXS, plus Master Sgt Jonathan McNeely, Albacete Air Base aerospace maintenance coordinator, Staff Sergeants John Escalante, 5th Munitions Squadron, Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.
The medals came three days after all except SA Wolsleben were presented with the French Legion of Honour at the Paris Air Show.
The medals relate to a crash on January 26, when a Greek F-16 jet fighter crashed at Albacete killing nine French and two Greek service people and injuring 21 others.
The USAF says that while most sought safety from the flames, the six Airmen ran towards the wreckage to help others and provide first aid.
Mr Morenes said: “Those actions that many of you conducted on that unfortunate day are clear evidence of your great professionalism and a reason for your country to feel proud of you.
“I sincerely wish to thank you and recognize your dedication and fulfilment of your duties.”
Staff Sgt Greggory Swarz, a 492nd Aircraft Maintenance Unit electrical environmental systems specialist, was one of the first of four RAF Lakenheath airmen to run towards the wreckage, saving three French air force airmen.
“I don’t think I did more than I had to do,” he said. “I think I did what should have done. But I’m very happy that they’re alive and I’m glad I was able to make a difference.”
After the awards ceremony, a memorial service was held to honor the 11 fallen comrades, where a memorial statue with a plaque was unveiled.