Master Sgt. Dominick Griego, an Air Mobility Command fuels specialist; Tech. Sgt. Austin Hardin, the Air Force Materiel Command drive team NCO in charge; and Staff Sgt. Mechele Fonck, an Air Education and Training Command operations truck commander, deployed to Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan, in support of the Defense Contract Management Agency.

On October 18, 2013, using two non-tactical vehicles, Griego, Hardin and Fonck suppressed the enemy when their vehicles were ambushed by a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). At dusk of the drive mission, they departed from Kabul International Airport en-route to Camp Phoenix. Shortly after leaving the airport, Fonck’s vehicle was hit by a VBIED, along with small and heavy weapons fire, disabling the vehicle. The impact of the explosion was so extreme it crumpled the vehicle’s hood, shattered the windshield and blew out a rear passenger window. The second vehicle’s windshield, driver’s side door and rear windows were also blown out. The event rendered all the occupants unconscious.

At the same time, the team received gunfire from insurgents within 50 meters of their position. After initially losing consciousness, Hardin, in vehicle two, recovered and began returning fire through the blown out windshield while confirming with vehicle one there were no serious injuries. Hardin attempted to put the vehicle in drive, but the vehicle would not budge. As vehicle two began to take more fire to the rear and left side, Griego and Hardin again returned fire, and Griego advised Hardin to restart the stalled vehicle and directed a third occupant to engage the enemy.

As the vehicle lurched forward, Griego coordinated with the entire team and directed Hardin to pull the vehicle into a blocking position to allow cross-loading of vehicle one personnel. Fonck prepared for the cross-load of passengers and repositioned herself in the rear of vehicle two. She sighted her M-4 on the closest target through the blown-out rear window engaging the enemy and suppressing the enemy shooter. After vehicle one personnel loaded into vehicle two, rounds began slamming into the driver’s side door. After returning more fire, Griego and Hardin ensured accountability of all passengers, and they quickly sped away with Hardin holding his door shut with one arm while navigating the heavily damaged vehicle through traffic. Upon arrival at Camp Phoenix, Hardin ordered the Entry Control Point to open. Once medical personnel began treatment, Hardin ensured his team was treated first, disregarding his severe concussion and traumatic brain injury, which led to his eventual evacuation to Germany.

Griego, Hardin and Fonck’s leadership, tactical knowledge and demonstration of true warrior ethos ultimately saved lives under extremely difficult conditions. For his actions, Griego was awarded a Combat Action Medal, a Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. Hardin and Fonck both were awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.