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EOD specialist receives Bronze Star after tour in Iraq

BARKSDALE AFB, La. -- During his four-month tour in Iraq, Master Sgt. Jeff Smith knew the “bad guys” were watching and waiting from a distance, ready to press the button to a hidden bomb once he entered the kill zone. 

But that didn’t happen. Instead the Air Force Reservist was able to disarm bombs and improve the Air Force’s war-fighting capability. For his efforts, Sergeant Smith earned one of the U.S. military’s highest honors, the Bronze Star. He received the medal Dec. 5 during commander’s call at Barksdale Air Force Base, La.

“When we hit the ground, it was very evident to me who the leader of the group was,” said Senior Master Sgt. Martin Wright, 917th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight superintendent. “We had a chief, a major ... masters, techs and staffs, and the one who stood out to me was Jeff.”

Sergeant Smith was the person “who made things happen,” said Sergeant Wright, commenting on his fellow Reservist from the Air Force Reserve Command EOD flight.

“He was the guy who was putting together tactics. When there was a problem, a question, he was the one who found the answer. His leadership skills, intuitiveness and ability to think outside the box were what kept us all working safely and effectively.”

Lt. Col. Connie Allen, the deployment commander, said Sergeant Smith was decorated for doing more then just his job while in Iraq.

“The Bronze Star Medal was justified,” the colonel said. “Sergeant Smith and his entire flight performed ... with an intensity and frequency never experienced before by U.S. forces.”

Sergeant Smith and a team of 11 other EOD specialists — three other Reservists from his unit, six Guardsmen and two active-duty people — arrived in Iraq in November 2003. Their mission was to maintain safety for incoming and outgoing aircraft at the Baghdad International Airport, a 35-square-mile area.

Their job often went beyond the confines of the airport. Their primary mission was to render safe improvised explosive devices or road-side bombs. Also, they secured sites after rocket and mortar attacks and cleaned up and disposed of unexploded ordnance.

An average day consisted of approximately 10 missions, with as many as three IEDs in one day.

Sergeant Smith remains humble, despite having received such a high honor.

“It was very intense, very hostile,” he said. “So you had no choice but to step up, and you had to maintain that the entire time and deal with issues that come up. All of our men over there did extraordinary work. If I should go back and I could pick my team, I would pick those guys. They kept me safe, out of trouble.” «

(Sergeant Savant is assigned to the 917th Wing public affairs office at Barksdale AFB.)

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