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AFSPC officer accepts O'Malley award at warfare symposium

KEYSTONE, Colo. -- The chief of Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center Weather Operations received the General Jerome F. O'Malley Distinguished Space Leadership Award for 2006 during a presentation ceremony at the Lance P. Sijan, Chapter 125 of Air Force Association, Space Warfare Symposium here June 28.

Nearly 400 people rose to their feet to applaud 2nd Lt. Randall Claar, 21st Operations Support Squadron, as he accepted the award recognizing his use of space technology in direct support of the warfighter.

During an introductory presentation, Maj. Gen. Thomas Taverney, mobilization assistant to the commander, Air Force Space Command, praised the lieutenant - the youngest recipient of the honor - for his "critical use of space assets during battle." "Lieutenant Claar showed us that space really does make a difference," he said.

The lieutenant, then an Air Force staff sergeant, was attached as the chief of combat weather operations with the 15th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Squadron, 3rd Squadron, 7th U.S. Cavalry, 3rd Infantry Division.

His unit was staged in Kuwait for four months prior to the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he said. He provided weather information to the Army's cavalry commander and aviation assets in his area of responsibility.

In March 2003 when the war began, Lieutenant Claar was the second Air Force member to enter Iraq. His unit, he said, was a running decoy operation designed to find enemy units.

"Our job, as the cavalry, was to draw fire and continue on," Lieutenant Claar said. "Then the 3rd ID came in behind us and eliminated the enemy forces." Baghdad was their overall objective, but it took some time to get there, he said. His actions, from March 25 to 26, 2003, earned him the Bronze Star Medal with Valor.

His cavalry commander heralded Lieutenant Claar's actions in the citation for the medal. "After four days of continuous battle without sleep, Sergeant Claar was exposed to extreme danger from fierce and unrelenting mortar, machine gun and rocket propelled grenade attacks during what would prove to be the decisive battle of the war in the city of As Samawah.

The lieutenant and his team found themselves under attack and extreme danger, according to the citation. Under a hail of enemy fire, Lieutenant Claar used an Iridium satellite phone to issue a warning for a severe sandstorm in the midst of the battle. This gave Army commanders time to secure the convoy before the largest sandstorm in four decades hit. "The storm was blinding," Lieutenant Claar said. "It looked like the surface of Mars when the sun was still up, and when the sun went down, it started to rain mud."

The enemy continued to assault the halted convoy during the storm. Using space-based assets, friendly air support dropped munitions within 200 meters of either side of the convoy to repel attackers. While recovering from the attack, another 2,000 enemy soldiers ambushed the convoy, forcing them to dig in.

The citation recounts Lieutenant Claar's actions: "Braving a barrage of enemy fire and with blatant disregard for his own safety, Sergeant Claar was the first to exit his vehicle and quickly realized the convoy had stopped in a field of thousands of unexploded ordnances."

"It was a mess," the lieutenant said. "The only way to get through it was to have someone walk through it."

That someone was him. The citation continues: "He ordered the rest of the convoy's personnel to stay in their vehicles while he guided the 23 vehicles to safety on foot amid enemy fire, stepping around unexploded ordnances." His experiences in Iraq and actions during those tense days left a lasting impression on both Lieutenant Claar and his Army brothers. His "Cav" brethren, three of whom have since died while serving in Iraq, inducted him into the Order of the Spur for his decisive actions and seamless integration into the Army unit. Those he led and those who led him, he said, were leaders in the truest sense. They inspired him to become an officer. During the O'Malley award presentation, the ribbon bedecked officer wore his Cavalry spurs with his Air Force service dress uniform. With tears in his eyes and a crack in his voice, he toasted his Cavalry brothers and sisters.

Everyone in the audience was moved, not only by his actions in March 2003, but for what Lieutenant Claar has come to symbolize - the epitome of the Air Force space warfighter.