By Tech. Sgt. Aaron Vezeau
157th Air Refueling Wing
Lt. Col. Charles Smith, 260th Air Traffic Control Squadron commander, was awarded the U.S Air Force Bronze Star Medal at Pease Air National Guard Base, Feb. 9, for his meritorious achievement while deployed as Commander of the 44rd Air Expeditionary Squadron, Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, from April 2 through Oct. 6, 2019.
During this period, while exposed to significant threats from improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks, Smith commanded 187 personnel, spanning thirty-five Air Force Specialty Codes, in support to Operations INHERENT RESOLVE.
Composed of military active duty, guard and reserve personnel, DOD civilians and civilian contractors, Smith said the squadron was like a mini hybrid Mission Support Group.
“I joked that if I had a medical [unit] I would have called it a mini hybrid wing, because that’s all I was missing,” Smith said. “It was very unique and very rewarding to get all that different experience with different AFSC’s and missions, plus complete integration with the Army Base Operations Support Integrator.”
As the Senior Airfield Authority for the largest airfield in Iraq and Syria, his leadership directly contributed to 52,000 aircraft operations, the delivery of 4,800 tons of cargo, and the destruction of 152 enemy targets resulting in 197 enemies killed in action.
Additionally, in response to imminent hostile action reports targeting his location with threat of complex attacks involving indirect fire and rocket attacks, he conducted periodic perimeter security checks into territory frequented by irregular enemy forces and was regularly surveilled by enemy unmanned aerial systems to observe weak points in the porous Iraq-controlled accesses to the flight line.
Following these assessments, Smith met with senior Base Operations Support Integrator staff to prioritize the final design and the immediate construction of a $525,000 crash-rated fence around the airfield’s southern boundaries, substantially increasing the safety of 4,000 coalition personnel and protecting five billion dollars of war fighting assets.
Smith traveled outside of the coalition-protected perimeter through territory frequented by known anti-coalition militias and conducted eighteen key leader engagements with senior officials from the Iraqi Air Force and Customs office.
Under constant danger from vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and sniper fire, he coordinated four force protection projects worth over two million dollars, bolstering the base’s security, streamlining aircraft movement throughout the theater, and forging critical allied host nation relations.
“It's been kind of one of those culmination capstones career deployments.” Smith said.
Since Dec. 6, 1941, men and women who served in any capacity in or with the U.S. military, have been awarded Bronze Star Medal; distinguishing themselves by their heroic or meritorious achievements or service.
When asked how he feels about receiving the medal, Smith simply answered, “It is a really great honor.”