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U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Tom Blandino, a graduate of West Brunswick High School and now stationed in Korea, has been awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.
Blandino was awarded the medal for “outstanding service to the United States as Military Working Dog Trainer and Handler,” for the Fourth Security Forces, Fourth Mission Support Group, Fourth Fighter Wing, and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
According to Master Sgt. Shaffinie Wallace, of the Fourth Security Forces Squadron, Blandino received the Meritorious Service Medal for his service while he was deployed with the 82nd Airborne Division in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“While conducting convoy operations, his squad drew direct fire from insurgent forces, which resulted in his military working dog sustaining severe injuries. He [immediately] administered first aid, saving his dog’s life, allowing it to return to duty,” the award reads.
“Furthermore, while performing a dismounted foot patrol, he detected an imminent insurgent ambush. Blandino’s astute situational awareness facilitated a counter ambush attack, killing 12 confirmed enemies.”
According to Wallace, Blandino participated in 182 raids on insurgent safe houses, “and suspected improvised explosive device factories, capturing over 300 suspects and over 25,000 pounds of explosives.”
Last March, Blandino was named the Air Force’s non-commissioned officer of the year for the 9th Air Force.
The award, he said, was for “outstanding and distinguished combat-related service.”
Blandino, along will his K-9 Veki, served two tours in Iraq searching for roadside bombs and other explosives.
Blandino’s first tour was for six months, and his second tour was for eight months. He and other K-9 handlers were deployed to “sweep out” bombs or other explosive devices for U.S. troops to safely navigate the Iraqi terrain.
The most dangerous bombs he and Veki sought out were explosive form projectiles, which can penetrate armored tanks and trucks, Blandino explained.
The duo typically spent three or four days at a time searching out explosive devices. Once Veki detected an explosive, he signaled Blandino, and the explosive was destroyed.