Air Force firefighter, a former Rancho Bernardo resident, to receive heroism award
By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
A former Rancho Bernardo resident will receive the United States Air Force’s top award for a firefighter who performs heroic actions that go above and beyond the call of duty.
Master Sgt. Benny Baladez has been selected to receive the Robert A. McAllister Fire Fighter Heroism Award. He is also going to represent the Air Force in an upcoming Department of Defense competition where each branch’s honoree will be considered for the DOD Firefighter Heroism Award.
The latter annually goes to “an individual or team of individuals for single acts of heroism above and beyond the call of duty, while on-duty, assigned to the Fire and Emergency Services organization and in the performance of Fire and Emergency Services related duty.”
Baladez was selected for his actions during an incident in February 2012 while deployed to Shendand, Afghanistan. The then-technical sergeant and his three crew members were on a fire protection mission when they were called to a bomb explosion outside the Army-controlled area, according to military officials.
Upon arriving at the scene they gave first aid to those injured while under small-arms fire. During the same mission the team went to investigate an improvised explosive device detonation that had injured three members of the Afghan army. In all, Baladez saved the lives of six people plus helped with the capture of a bomb maker and discovery of insurgent weapons.
“Being under small-arms fire is just a part of war,” Baladez said when talking about the events that occurred during his third deployment to Afghanistan.
He said this was the first time his fire department medics were placed in such a situation because usually medical corps medics respond.
The son of Rancho Bernardo residents Annette and Carlos Baladez is a 1996 Rancho Bernardo High graduate who previously attended Pomerado Elementary and Bernardo Heights Middle School.
Baladez said his parents happened to be visiting him at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana when he was notified about winning the Air Force award.
“It surprised me … because this was just part of my daily mission,” Baladez said. “I did not think of it as heroic, just doing my job. This is everyday life for me.”
Baladez said he joined the Air Force 15 years ago after going to college for two years. He plans to retire after 20 years in the military and then work for a civilian fire department.
“I went to the recruiter on a whim,” he recalled. “My dad, granddad and uncles had all served (in various branches). So it was a natural progression for me to follow in their footsteps.”
He chose the Air Force because of the educational opportunities and technical training. As for being a firefighter, that was a dream since childhood.
“I was doing ride-alongs in high school,” Baladez said. “I’ve wanted to do it ever since I can remember. I’m an adrenalin junkie and like the fast pace movement.”
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