Air Force chief of staff presents combat decorations, addresses 386th Airmen during visit

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Stefanie Torres
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The Air Force's top military leader took time during a visit to the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing June 22 to present combat decorations to two Airmen, both of whom were injured by the detonation of an improvised explosive device while driving in a supply convoy in Iraq.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz presented a Purple Heart and an Air Force Combat Action Medal to Senior Airman Brian Willard, a vehicle operator assigned to the 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron here.

General Schwartz also presented vehicle operator Senior Airman Trent Cichy with an Air Force Combat Action Medal.

Senior Airmen Willard and Cichy were on a nighttime supply mission May 27 in Baghdad, when they realized that a new checkpoint had been erected, and road barriers were placed to funnel the convoy team from a three-lane passage into a single lane of traffic. To make matters worse, a sandstorm had swept through the area the day before.

Sandstorms inhibit visibility and provide cover to the enemy to place IEDs while going undetected, Airman Willard said.

"We had taken the route several times before, and these changes were very noticeable," Airman Willard said. "Looking back, I can see (the enemy) knew exactly where we were going."

Airman Willard said he doesn't remember the explosion, but he vividly recalls smoke filling the vehicle.

He said his next thought was about the rest of the team.

"At first, I thought, 'I'm alive,'" he said. "'How is everyone else?' We all checked on each other, and our adrenaline was through the roof. The training we get really kicked in."

He credited the basic combat convoy course he attended in San Antonio, with teaching his team how to react when responding to an IED attack.

The blast knocked out the truck's communications gear, but they were able to signal other vehicles. Within minutes, the team received help from other members of their convoy.

"No one saw where the blast came from," Airman Willard said. "But we all came together and got to where we needed to go."

Airman Willard received shrapnel wounds to the leg in the attack, and Airman Cichy incurred second-degree burns to his leg.

General Schwartz, accompanied by Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy, concluded the June 22 award ceremony by noting how teamwork played a vital role in the outcome.

"Everybody matters," he said. "We are a family. If everyone doesn't play their position, the team doesn't succeed."

He continued this theme during a wide-ranging commander's call that followed the ceremony, discussing the importance of everyone's role in today's fight.

That's especially true for the Airmen of the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, who have been providing essential support for the responsible drawdown of U.S forces in Iraq for quite some time, General Schwartz said.

"In the past year, Airmen here have been involved in moving 600,000 pounds of cargo and 50,000 vehicles within the area of responsibility," he said. "The footprint in Iraq has been reduced to half, and Airmen have still managed to move personnel, do our jobs, deliver mail, make sure meals were available and ensure the mission is being done, which has been noticed.

"We are grateful and are proud of what you do," General Schwartz said.

General Schwartz also talked about joint expeditionary taskings, in which Airmen are assigned to deploy with other services to perform a variety of functions traditionally not associated with Airmen.

He said Airmen will continue to fill these JET assignments because they are necessary to ensure mission success, and because Airmen have proven their value to the fight.

"We often hear that the other services want our Airmen because we know how to get things done," he said. "We bring excellence and commitment."

General Schwartz concluded his commander's call by pledging his support for all Airmen.

"This is about keeping promises," he said. "We are keeping our promise to you to represent you. Let's continue to be proud of what we do, and be proud of our team."