New Jersey Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Mike Sears, left, is awarded the Bronze Star last month by Brig. Gen. Michael L. Cunniff in New Jersey.
By Curtis Edmonds Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
For the second time this spring, Beaver residents Mike and Jen Sears traveled to New Jersey, where Mike Sears had served in the state's Air National Guard. The couple were joined last weekend by their three children and his parents for a special honor.
Master Sgt. Sears was recognized at the 177th fighter wing in Atlantic City for his heroic actions in Afghanistan. The 36-year-old had been awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart a month earlier at the State House in Trenton.
The Bronze Star is awarded to soldiers who have displayed "heroic or meritorious achievement or service," according to President Harry Truman's 1944 executive order, which established the medal.
Master Sgt. Sears, an explosive disposal technician who was a technical sergeant at the time, remembers the day in Afghanistan in September when he and his colleagues were on combat patrol with Polish troops and were alerted that an improvised explosive device was nearby.
"We blew up the IED and then found two more," Master Sgt. Sears recalled. "I ended up defusing them by hand."
He said defusing IEDs by hand is "not common practice" but pointed out that it was best practice at the time. "I can either go back and get another bombing kit, or I can take care of the problem there," he said.
He wasn't done once the IEDs were defused.
"There were 10 to 15 insurgents coming" from both directions, he said.
The insurgents sent rocket-propelled grenades toward him, his colleagues and the command vehicle, he said, where a Polish infantry soldier sat. One of the soldier's legs was severed from the knee down.
"He was about 260 pounds," Master Sgt. Sears recalled. Despite his colleague's weight, Master Sgt. Sears pulled him out of the command vehicle and landed on his back in an attempt to prevent the soldier from suffering further injury.
As a result, Master Sgt. Sears tore several ligaments in his left shoulder.
"The adrenaline was rushing, so I didn't feel too much," he said. He then proceeded to lay on top of the Polish soldier to protect him from the incoming grenades.
The grenades landed in such close range to Master Sgt. Sears that he suffered moderate traumatic brain injuries, which have resulted in headaches and memory loss for which he is on medication.
"I didn't find out until he came home," Mrs. Sears said. "I was relieved that he was safe."
Until two years ago, the Department of Defense generally did not award a Purple Heart to soldiers who suffered wounds such as traumatic brain injury or concussions.
Master Sgt. Sears and his family moved to Beaver five years ago, when he joined Homeland Security as an explosives specialist in the Pittsburgh office.
He said he is proud to be a part of the U.S. military.
"A lot of people don't understand the sacrifices we make in the name of America and for the people in Afghanistan, making it a safer place to live for them."