FALLBROOK − Naval Aircrewman Helicopter Second Class (aviation warfare) Vincent O. Meza, born and raised in Fallbrook, received an Air Medal (Gold Numeral One for the First Award) on March 29. President Donald Trump awarded the medal.
Petty Officer Meza received the honor for “meritorious achievement” while participating in aerial flight as rescue swimmer of Sideflare 67, an MH-60S assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Two One, Detachment Four, deployed on the USNS Mercy in support of Pacific Partnership 2016 on May 27, 2016.
Meza launched as the rescue swimmer supporting the perilous medical evacuation of a submariner suffering from acute appendicitis from the pitching deck of the Republic of Korea submarine SSK Lee Eok Gi. High seas and gusting winds caused the small submarine to pitch and roll heavily. These poor conditions, coupled with a language barrier, made the recovery almost impossible.
Battling strong crosswinds, a severely pitching deck, and with no visible reference to the submarine, Meza was hoisted down to a small spot on the submarine’s unstable sail. Once on the sail, he assessed and prepared the sick sailor and his interpreter for recovery. The sailor and interpreter were placed in rescue strops and hoisted, one at a time, to the hovering helicopter.
After Meza was recovered, the crew transported the patient to awaiting doctors onboard Mercy for surgery. Exercising exceptional crew coordination and time critical operational risk management, Meza and the crew of Sideflare 67 executed a dynamic medical evacuation that has never been attempted before. By his skillful airmanship, technical expertise, and exemplary devotion to duty in the face of challenging conditions, Meza reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
Meza graduated Nov. 12, 2008 from Navy Boot Camp in Great Lakes, Ill., and is a 2008 graduate of Fallbrook High School. He is the son of Billy Meza, and Peggy and Larry Steiber.