By Karen Abeyasekere, 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 08, 2007
RAF MILDENHALL, England --
Being in a convoy that was struck by a large improvised explosive device didn't phase Master Sergeant Jeff Fenner, 100th Security Forces Squadron, when he was deployed for six months in Iraq from January to June 2006.
When the vehicle he was traveling behind was disabled, he suddenly became surrounded by wounded Airmen, including one with a head trauma.
"Shrapnel from the bomb penetrated the HUMVEE and caused injuries to the driver's leg," said the sergeant, who has just received the Bronze Star medal for his efforts in Iraq. "I helped pull out the injured driver, and after carrying him to another vehicle and making sure he was safely inside, I took his spot to get the vehicle out of the way - it was a very tense time."
The Charlotte, N.C. native said all this happened in a matter of minutes, and he and his troops ended up taking refuge in a police station, about a mile from the attack, where they were then able to treat the injuries.
This was the worst of five attacks off-base, out on the streets, and five others against the academy where they worked during the deployment.
The superintendent of the 100th SFS Plans and Programs Flight was deployed to Mosul Public Services Academy - a police training mission, in Mosul, Iraq. His job was to ensure the safety and security of the Iraqi police cadets, while at the same time ensuring they met their goal of graduating.
"We maintained the security of the entire compound, while facilitating their curriculum by supporting the international police trainers who taught the cadets," he said.
The MPSA is an outpost, not a base, and 45 Airmen (four from RAF Mildenhall), plus three Army support personnel (two cooks and one medic) ran it during Sergeant Fenner's deployment. Being an outpost meant they had no BX, theater, or morale, welfare and recreation support - meal support was 'boil in the bag' items, which were "like MREs on steroids," joked Sergeant Fenner.
He and his troops had to run their own convoys to pick up meals from the Logistics Support Area Diamondback (22 miles each way); the convoys were conducted in HUMVEES and 5-ton trucks, with about 15 to 20 people per convoy, depending on what had to be picked up.
"Three to four times a week we attended battle update meetings and visited police stations so we could see the fruit of our efforts," the master sergeant said. "We would graduate the cadets, and had to check they were managing their police station the way they'd been taught - it was usually a 50/50 chance they were actually doing things the way they were supposed to."
It was during one of those convoys that the IED attack happened.
"I don't remember any emotions at the time, but after the attacks we'd conduct a debriefing - that's when the emotional side comes out ... after you have time to think about just how dangerous the situation was," Sergeant Fenner said. "With the biggest attack, I just did what needed doing."
The team also had to run the academy and administer the entire process, while at the same time preparing the Iraqis to take on that same responsibility after the Americans left.
This involved bringing computer automation to the academy, which included a tracking system for expenditure, duty uniform issue and weapons. The Iraqi commander (a commandant, who was an Iraqi general) was ultimately responsible for the (Iraqi) Ministry of Interior (which includes police and fire services).
"Our responsibility to the general was to ensure the Iraqis selected to replace the police trainers could effectively run and manage the academy," said Sergeant Fenner.
He and his troops performed their jobs over and above what was asked of them - the coalition's goal for them was to graduate 1,500 troops in the six month period. Instead, almost 1,800 Iraqi cadets graduated during that time frame.
Other 100th SFS troops under Sergeant Fenner's command were Tech. Sgt. Justin Fleming, from the military working dog section, and Tech. Sgt. Stacey Moore, an investigator.
Sergeant Fleming was appointed as plans NCO.
"I sat him down and told him what I thought the problems were with security and force protection and turned him loose," said Sergeant Fenner. "Within three months, he'd established new entry control procedures, with Staff Sgt. David Dike (also from 100th SFS) - they automated the entry control point system to ensure every visitor and cadet was badged and placed on an entry authority list, so we knew who was there at all times.
"They also created the photo-embedded badging system. Once that hit the street, we had no more problems with people who weren't supposed to be there."
The Bronze Star medal recipient said together he felt they'd done everything they could to make life better out there, including building a gym (using old equipment from LSA Diamondback), and registering with a Web site to ensure care packages were sent to the Airmen deployed there.
"I do wish I'd made Stacey Moore the convoy commander (Sergeant Fenner assigned Investigator Moore the duty about half-way into the deployment); people want to follow him - he's a great leader. The most dangerous job in Iraq is going out onto the streets - he had an amazing record of not losing any Airmen or getting any injuries to his people. Prior to him being there, we suffered four injuries," he said.
Another attack that Sergeant Fenner witnessed was one he described as the worst he saw against the academy.
"We were transporting Airmen to the academy for the first time when we were preparing to live there. About half a mile from the academy entrance, they were attacked," he said. "I was waiting at the entrance for them; I could hear what happened and ran up onto the (fortified) roof of the operations building, so I could see what was going on. I just wanted them to push through the attack and keep on going, which they did, and made it to the academy.
"That's how they were welcomed by our neighbors. They were attacked by small arms and AK-47s; open-fired on by people who were waiting for them - there were so few Americans with the Iraqi students and police officers that information got out; people saw us moving troops into buildings. It's difficult, no matter how much you try and protect security."
Sergeant Fenner brought back many memories from Iraq, but said one of the most memorable moments was watching the first class of Iraqi cadets graduate. "It made us all feel great, even if it was just for a minute or two, to see the pride in their faces from what they had accomplished, and in front of their Iraqi leaders."
The 100th SFS superintendent heard he'd been nominated for the Bronze Star medal before he left Iraq, and said he felt really honored, though it was still a bit of a shock when he was presented with it.
"My wife and oldest son were there when I was formerly presented my medal by Col. (Mike) Callis, (100th Air Refueling Wing vice commander)," he said. "I didn't talk much about what we did when we were down there, so my wife was really proud that I was able to make it through what I went through. It provided more realism to her and brought home the fact that security forces are more involved in combat now than in the past," he said. "I believe we train for a reason, and that reason is to react without hesitation and get out of harm's way as quickly as possible. So I rely on training, and even though it can seem very repetitive, I try to remember why I do it - so I can react the way I'm expected to."
The 100th SFS commander had plenty of praise for his troop.
"Master Sergeant Jeff Fenner's accomplishments in Iraq represent the very best of combat leadership by our Airmen," said Maj. Shannon Caudill, 100th SFS commander. "Leading convoys through improvised explosive and small arms attacks is no easy feat. Jeff was involved in more than 200 convoys and helped the Iraqi police set up a police academy in a rough part of Iraq. I'm very proud of his entire team.
"Their accomplishments represent just the tip of the iceberg on what our troops are accomplishing for the country in harm's way," he said.