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Local Airman recognized for his efforts in Puerto Rico

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Wesley Jones
  • 117th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

A command post controller with the 117th Air Refueling Wing received the Air Force Commendation Medal at Sumpter Smith Air National Guard base on April 21 for his outstanding contribution while deployed to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Irma and Maria.

Staff Sgt. James C. Halbert played a crucial role in coordinating more than 400 sortie missions carrying supplies, troops, and officials on and off the island, including President Donald Trump and Air Force One.

Halbert said one of the most unique aspects about the deployment was witnessing the generosity of the Puerto Rican people during one of the largest natural disasters in the territory’s history.

"It was amazing to see the amount of people in Puerto Rico that were already in bad situations, volunteering to help others,” said Halbert. “That was really cool to see and be a part of."

After Halbert had been in Puerto Rico for multiple days, a second Category 5 hurricane, Maria, slammed the island which knocked out further communication and flooded interstates and road ways. Even then, Halbert elected to stay.

"I just knew they needed help and I wanted to stay,” said Halbert. “I remember thinking - even if they put us in tents, just let us stay.”

Halbert, a full-time command and control technician, said he understands how important the mission is back home in Birmingham, but this mission had a different meaning to him.

“We have a big mission back home, but being there in Puerto Rico, you were constantly being reminded of what a difference you were making,” said Halbert. “People are coming up to you and thanking you for getting them out of a terrible situation. You just felt like you were making such a big impact being there and helping."