A Commack resident and veteran who spent two tours Afghanistan has been named the USO’s National Guardsman of the Year for 2013.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Petersen, a full-time member of the 106th Rescue Wing's 103rd Rescue Squadron, was recognized during the USO’s annual Washington Gala on Oct. 25.Peterson graduated from Notre Dame University with a degree in finance and worked on Wall Street before enlisting in the New York Air National Guard and spending two tours in Afghanistan. He also received the Bronze Star for Valor for his heroism under fire during a Dec. 10, 2012, medical evacuation mission in Afghanistan in which the lives of three soldiers—two Americans and one Afghan—were saved, according to a press release. He was also selected as the New York Air National Guard Airman of the Year.
"I just did my job," Petersen said. "There are a lot of other people who are just as deserving."
Petersen attended the University of Notre Dame and graduated in 2007 with a Bachelor's of Business Administration with a major in finance and a minor in theology. After graduation he joined Ernst and Young as a financial analyst but left that job in August 2008 to join the Air National Guard as a pararescue airman.
Known as Guardian Angles, pararescuemen are trained to rescue downed airmen on sea or land by parachuting in or rappelling out of a helicopter. They are also trained to provide medical support and are skilled in survival and ground combat skills.
During his deployments, Petersen served on more than 85 combat missions.
"Because of Staff Sergeant Petersen's bravery while serving in Afghanistan, three soldiers are alive today. In those crucial moments he made it possible for three of his comrades to share many more special moments with their friends and family members," said USO Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff John I. Pray, Jr. "Not surprisingly, the USO is immensely proud to be able to thank Staff Sergeant Petersen on behalf of all Americans for his selfless service and heroism."
In the release, Petersen said he had always been interested in military service and wanted to be a pararescueman because "this was a program where you could push yourself physically and mentally."
During the two-year pararescue training program, Petersen received the Charles D. King Award for top academic performer, and the Purple Heart Association Award and Jason D. Cunningham Award for excellence as a medic.