Carson City’s Harry “Wayne” Wheeler, a deputy with the Carson City Sheriff’s Office and a master sergeant in the Nevada Air Guard, was among eight airmen to receive the Air Force Combat Action Medal this month.
“It feels really good,” he said.
However, the recognition is not his motivation for serving.
“I didn’t go into military service for rewards,” he said. “I didn’t go into law enforcement for any reward. I just enjoy serving community and country.”
Wheeler, 44, grew up in Reno and served in the Navy from 1988-91, stationed in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm.
After being in the Navy, he served in the Nevada Army National Guard then the Air National Guard for 25 years.
In December 2001, he deployed to Afghanistan with 152nd Security Forces Squadron and was stationed on Bagram Airfield on Feb. 22, 2002, when it came under attack.
He said a celebration in a nearby village, separated from the airfield by a mere barbed wire fence, was marked with rifle shots into the air.
“The enemy used it to mask an attack on the airbase,” he said. “Rounds were fired onto our base.”
He said they responded quickly.
“We took a defensive posture and called for a counter strike of mortar rounds,” he said.
Though it didn’t last long, it was an intense exchange of gunfire.
“It was pretty high-stress for a little bit,” he said.
In a Dec. 5 ceremony attended by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., at the Nevada Air Guard Base, the airmen received their Combat Action Medals from Nevada Adjutant General Brig. Gen. Bill Burks. In addition to Wheeler, the recipients were Senior Master Sgt. Michael Del Soldato of Sparks; retired Master Sgt. John Blevins of Reno; Capt. Lawrence Chappell of Pleasanton, Calif.; Master Sgt. Clinton Dudley of Incline Village; retired Chief Master Sgt. Todd Shipley of Reno; Master Sgt. David McNeely of Reno; and retired Master Sgt. Jerry Miller of Reno.
According to the 152nd Force Support Squadron, the eight are the only Nevada Guard airmen to receive Combat Action Medals during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Air Force Combat Action Medal was first awarded in 2007 and may be awarded for combat actions dating to Sept. 11, 2001. The award is reserved for airmen who have physically engaged hostile forces with direct and lethal fire.
Wheeler lives in Carson City with his wife, Sabrina, and their combined children Haley, 19, Makaela, 17, Hunter, 15, Hayden, 11, Sierra, 17 and Jessie, 14.
He noted his appreciation for Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong, who allows Wheeler the flexibility to fulfill his commitment to the Air Guard.
“He’s always supported the military,” Wheeler said.
And he plans to continue serving.
“It’s an honor to live in this great country,” he said. “A lot of guys better than me have paid the ultimate price, given their lives for freedom. I just feel like it’s my job to pick up and carry on and keep our country and our community safe.”