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Duluth Air National Guard member, of Cloquet, awarded Bronze Star

Master Sgt. Wayne Kettelhut of Cloquet said he was just doing what he was trained to do when he led six other soldiers in defending a compound under surprise attack in Iraq two years ago.

Master Sgt. Wayne Kettelhut of Cloquet said he was just doing what he was trained to do when he led six other soldiers in defending a compound under surprise attack in Iraq two years ago.

Kettelhut has been awarded a Bronze Star Medal with Valor for his heroism under fire.

"It was just one of those things. My survival instincts kicked in, and you do what you have to do to not only stay alive but make sure that those that are with you stay alive," Kettelhut said. He is a member of the 148th Air National Guard in Duluth but was serving at the time with the Army Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha based out of Tikrit. "When I accepted it, I accepted it on behalf of all those who have signed up and raised their right hand and swore to defend this country against all enemies, both foreign and domestic."

His actions that earned the medal occurred on July 27, 2006. After a day of missions, Kettelhut and six other U.S. personnel stayed in their compound for the night while the rest of the team went out on a convoy. Sometime during the night, a large Anti-Iraqi Force element launched a surprise attack.

"While under heavy fire, he moved very quickly and established a firing position and kept fighting to keep his troops safe," said Capt. Audra Flanagan, spokeswoman for the 148th. "Due to his heroism, his compound was able to gain the fire superiority necessary to repulse the surprise attack."

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Kettelhut led a half-hour of concentrated small-arms fire before the enemy retreated. No U.S. troops were injured.

"I just thank God that I am alive and that I was able to do what had to be done," he said.

Kettelhut has completed two tours of duty in Iraq, both volunteer and both as an explosive ordnance disposal technician.

As an EOD, Kettelhut's duties were primarily to disable and then destroy improvised explosive devices. An IED can be hidden through a variety of methods and range in size from small projectiles to 100-pound propane tanks filled with high explosives. An active EOD has a death expectancy five times greater than any other position in Armed Forces, Kettelhut said.

The Bronze Star is awarded for bravery, meritorious service or heroism while engaged in action with an enemy of the United States. Kettelhut's Bronze Star with Valor is more distinguished and is awarded for heroism.

The medal was presented to Kettelhut last week by Maj. Gen. Harry J. Sieben and Lt. Col. Gary Hetrick, who served with Kettelhut in Iraq during the time their unit was attacked, Flanagan said.

Kettelhut also has been awarded an Air Force Commendation Medal with Valor.

The 148th Air National Guard Fighter Wing also received the Voluntary Protection Program Star for worksite safety from the Occupation Safety and Health Administration. They are the first Air Force unit to earn the award.

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