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Some local guard members may receive Bronze Star

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

About 10 men who served in the Tennessee Army National Guard unit that recently returned from Iraq to Shelbyville may soon be wearing a Bronze Star medal on their uniforms, according to their commander.

The fire fight that prompted Capt. Ted Webb to recommend two of the soldiers was described by the commander during comments on Saturday at Henry Horton State Park where veterans groups welcomed him to dinner.

"Two of our soldiers pulled a wounded civilian truck driver out of his vehicle while under fire and saved his life," said Webb, a resident of Belfast in Marshall County.

The soldiers are Spec. Donald Smith of Shelbyville and Sgt. Jeffery Giradina, a Pennsylvania resident who was transferred from an Army Reserve unit to serve with the Tennessee National Guard unit that left Shelbyville in September 2005 and returned two weeks ago.

The guardsmen's headquarters were in Shelbyville when they left. They're now in Lewisburg where an awards ceremony may be held in January for presentation of the medals, Webb said.

The unit's assignment was to guard truck convoys hauling supplies across Iraq. They were in Anbar Province, the location of the so-called "Triangle of Death." Virtually all of their convoys were at night.

Capt. Webb points out that while he participated in six convoys during the year in Iraq, "I ran in one year what my men did every week. I had to work in an office."

Yet that office job required him to write reports on everything that happened and Webb can now explain the nature of the unit's mission.

"Combat is not our job," he said. "We're supposed to get them through," he said of the Humvees and armored security vehicles with 50-caliber guns.

During the incident that prompted Webb to recommend two Bronze Star medals, there were five Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) civilian tractor trailer trucks in the convoy.

"Three of the trucks were disabled and once those trucks got hit we had to get them out of the kill zone," Webb explained. "One KBR driver got shot."

Convoys are targets for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) which are frequently land mines with pressure sensitive switches. Insurgents attacked the KBR trucks after their bomb exploded and a gun battle ensued.

"At that time, there was no up-armor on the KBR trucks," Webb said of the fire fight during March. "Two of my guys got him out of the truck."

The guardsmen's truck was driven to the side of the disabled KBR truck. The driver had to be pulled out because he could not move himself. His pelvic bone was shattered and he's since received medical treatment in an Army hospital in Germany.

One of the guard unit's trucks "had to set up an LZ" (landing zone) about a mile away for a helicopter ambulance as soldiers in the other four guard vehicles "engaged in a fire fight," Webb said.

The guard's convoy protection missions include a series of steps when faced with on-coming vehicles, or other threats, Webb said.

Civilian vehicles are to stop rolling and park on the side of the road when a convoy is passing, he said.

If on-coming traffic does not stop, then headlights are flashed, or a spotlight is shined on the other vehicle. If the vehicle doesn't stop, three shots are fired, usually from an M-16 rifle.

"If they still don't stop, you put a 50-caliber round in their motor," Webb said. "If they don't stop after that, the 50-caliber bullet goes through the windshield.

"We shot some vehicles," he said.

Some photos of the results of that and other conflict on the Iraqi highways show few if any recognizable vehicles, he said.

IEDs and the method of insurgent attacks on convoys increased as the months wore on during the unit's deployment, he said. Two pounds of plastic explosive material was common in the early months.

"At about the time of Saddam's verdict [when the former Iraqi president was found guilty of war crimes] there were 100 pounds of plastic explosives" connected to a pressure sensitive switch, the captain said.

Such experience in Iraq is seen as valuable information for soldiers to pass along to other soldiers, Webb said. As a result, the U.S. Army has asked him to find at least three soldiers who are willing to provide training for soldiers about to be deployed to Iraq.

Nearly 60 Combat Action Badges are to be awarded to men in the unit and Webb's recommendations for about 10 Bronze Star medals have been forwarded through some of the layers of the military's administration for approval.

"The paper work with the recommendation is at 13th COSCOM in Iraq," Webb said of one of the major command centers for the military.

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