30th LRS Airman receives Bronze Star

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Tech Sgt. Fredrick Garcia (right), a 30th Logistics Readiness Squadron dispatch operations NCOIC stands with Tech Sgt. Raul Molina, a 30th LRS dispatch support NCOIC, during  a deployment to Iraq. Sergeant Garcia received a bronze star for his leadership as convoy commander in Iraq where he and his team drove a combined distance of 578,000 miles.(Air Force Photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Tech Sgt. Fredrick Garcia (right), a 30th Logistics Readiness Squadron dispatch operations NCOIC stands with Tech Sgt. Raul Molina, a 30th LRS dispatch support NCOIC, during a deployment to Iraq. Sergeant Garcia received a bronze star for his leadership as convoy commander in Iraq where he and his team drove a combined distance of 578,000 miles.(Air Force Photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Tech. Sergeant Frederick Garcia received a bronze star for his leadership as convoy commander in Iraq where he and his team drove a combined distance of 578,000 miles. That's the distance to the moon and back, and halfway around the Earth.

Sergeant Garcia deployed to the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing's 424th Medium Truck Detachment for nearly half a year with four other Airmen from the 30th Logistics Readiness Squadron.

His team spent 165 out of 179 days on the road, carrying equipment, ammunition and supplies to and from small bases all over Iraq, according to a 386th AEW press release.

Sergeant Garcia's team comprised about seven military vehicles and four times as many civilian trucks, whose drivers came from such countries as Bangladesh and the Philippines, he said. As a Filipino, Sergeant Garcia was a natural diplomat between his military crew and the Filipino drivers.

"They lived in the trucks and would invite me and my guys over to eat," he said, recalling the adobo, seasoned and sun dried fish, rice, and eggs. "My guys looked forward to it. They would ask me, 'do you think they will cook for us?'"

The convoys ran at night, so the crew slept during the day. But that was hard to do. People were loud. The air conditioning barely made a difference in the 140 degree heat. Sergeant Garcia cooled off tensions among his crew, bearing responsibilities as a flight chief while at the small bases. Sometimes they were lucky, and had their own tent.

"I always tried to treat them well," he said.

He also planned missions and based their schedule on intelligence reports out of a binder. He kept a picture of his wife and daughter in the pages where he took his notes, he said, to remind him how important the equipment they hauled was to the Americans and coalition forces, who needed the things they carried like ammunition, living spaces, Humvees and striker vehicles, and even tanks.

The mission is always dangerous. The convoy was hit by a roadside bomb on its first mission. On the second to last mission, Sergeant Garcia was nearly struck by searing hot shrapnel that cracked his windshield and punched holes in the cab.

At some time that night, each Airman probably thought the same thing: thirteen missions down; two more to go. As the headlights cut through the darkness between Scania and Baghdad, Sergeant Garcia heard and felt the concussive explosion. The road ahead had vaporized to the left of the gun truck in front of him.

As the brown cloud rolled in, it hid his convoy and made the Humvee headlights completely useless. Lethal shards of ragged metal whizzed past his window. It's a feeling that few Airmen ever experience.

Later that night, Sergeant Garcia assessed the damage to his tractor trailer. He ran his fingers along the fresh cracks in the bulletproof glass and pulled out shreds of shrapnel from the truck. Besides his tractor trailer and the gun truck, no other vehicles were damaged. He made his delivery to the forward operating base. More importantly, no one was injured. However, they weren't always so lucky.

On a mission in June, Sergeant Garcia's convoy drove through a place called the EFP, or explosively formed projectile, zone. EFP's are a sophisticated kind of roadside bomb that forms a jet of molten metal that can pierce armored vehicles. The convoy was 10 miles south of Scania in the EFP zone when the lead tractor trailer was struck.

Today, Sergeant Garcia wears a black band on his wrist with Eric Barnes' name engraved in silver letters. Sergeant Garcia remembered the airman first class from F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., who died that day, was on his second deployment.

"He went home for five months and had volunteered to go back," he said.

After 15 missions, Sergeant Garcia returned home. This was Sergeant Garcia's third time in Iraq. In 2003, he helped open Tallil AB in Nasiriya . On his second deployment, he ran gun trucks in Anaconda Air Base, Balad.

"Some people don't know that Airmen do convoy duties," he said. "We have young Airmen who go outside the wire day in and day out."

It's those Airmen like Sergeant Garcia who provide coalition forces in Iraq with the equipment they need to win the fight. Without them, winning any war could be impossible.