It’s the kind of stuff you see in movies: rescuing two children being swept downstream by a raging flood, scaling a glacier during a blizzard to save stranded civilians, extinguishing a blazing fire at 17,000 feet and dodging rocket-propelled grenades, all before an emergency landing.
But Portraits in Courage is not some Hollywood director’s embellished imagination of what happens on the battlefield. These are real stories of heroism and sacrifice in the U.S. Air Force.
A seven-part series compiled by the Air Force, Portraits in Courage features the extraordinary acts of airmen who put their lives on the line to save others during intense and hostile situations.
“The United States continues to be a nation in protracted conflict, but it is fortunate to have these Airmen and their Joint teammates performing magnificently under the stress of combat and the extreme conditions of humanitarian and disaster relief operations,” wrote former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz and Chief Master Sergeant James A. Roy in Portraits in Courage.
Those extreme conditions are brought to life in the story of Master Sergeant Christopher Uriarte, a pararescueman featured in the most recent volume. After a plane crash left five civilians stranded in Alaska’s Chugach mountains, Uriarte and his team covered 3,000 feet over 24 hours in an unforgiving climate to reach them and administer aid.
“The team crossed snow bridges and passed beneath hanging ice, stopping only momentarily to hydrate,” the passage read. “Each was drenched to the bone from the blizzard conditions which caused frostbite and hypothermia.”
Another profile relives the courageous acts of Senior Airman Veronica Cox, whose knowledge of Japanese helped her recognize a distress signal in the wake of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake in 2011.
According to her excerpt, “she recommended that the helicopter circle for a closer look, leading to the discovery of 200 isolated Japanese civilians who were sheltered among the rubble.” She communicated closely with village leaders and continued to provide aid for several days.
Uriarte and Cox are among dozens of other USAF heroes featured in the program’s seven different volumes. And although each account seems fit for the big screen, these stories of courage, honor and sacrifice are as real as it gets.
Photo courtesy Ingrid Truemper