Kentucky Air Guardsmen receive Bronze Stars for EOD service in Afghanistan

By Maj. Dale Greer, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

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Kentucky’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini (right), presents Tech. Sgt. Matthew D. Basanta of the 123rd Civil Engineer Squadron with a Bronze Star Medal during a ceremony held Nov. 20, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. Basanta earned the combat decoration for his exceptionally meritorious service while deployed to Afghanistan as an explosive ordnance disposal team leader supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky’s adjutant general presented three members of the 123rd Civil Engineer Squadron with Bronze Star Medals here Nov. 20 for their outstanding service while deployed to Afghanistan as Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialists.

Before an audience of nearly 1,000 Airmen in the Fuel Cell Hangar, Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini pinned the distinctive, five-point stars on the battle uniforms of Tech. Sgt. Matthew D. Basanta, Tech. Sgt. Matthew J. Meuser and Tech. Sgt. Robert L. Woods.

All three Airmen were EOD team leaders who spent six months clearing the Afghan countryside of enemy ordnance and neutralizing scores of Improvised Explosive Devices buried in roads and other public spaces.

“The achievements of these three Kentucky Air Guardsmen exemplify the highest standards of duty, honor and bravery,” said Col. Greg Nelson, commander of their parent unit, the 123rd Airlift Wing.

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Kentucky’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini (right), presents Tech. Sgt. Matthew J. Meuser of the 123rd Civil Engineer Squadron with a Bronze Star Medal during a ceremony held Nov. 20, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. Meuser earned the combat decoration for his exceptionally meritorious service while deployed to Afghanistan as an explosive ordnance disposal team leader supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora)

“Working tirelessly in some of the most dangerous regions of Afghanistan, they conducted daily Explosive Ordnance Disposal missions at great risk to their own lives so that coalition forces could operate safely and effectively. Whether they were disabling IEDs along more than 600 miles of roads or conducting patrols under constant threat of attack, Sergeants Basanta, Meuser and Woods aided the war effort immeasurably, saving the lives of coalition forces by neutralizing one of the enemy’s most insidious weapons.

“They truly represent the best qualities of the United States Air Force, the Kentucky Air National Guard and the 123rd Airlift Wing. I’m proud to serve with them.”

The Bronze Star is awarded to service members who distinguish themselves by heroic or meritorious achievement in connection with non-aerial military operations against an armed enemy.

Basanta distinguished himself while assigned to 466th Operating Location Alpha, Combined Joint Task Force Paladin-East, Forward Operating Base Ghanzi, Afghanistan, from Feb. 23 to Aug. 23, 2011.

During that time, Basanta executed 40 EOD combat missions throughout Ghanzi Province, completing 16 route patrols that cleared more than 600 miles of roads, according to the narrative that accompanies his award citation. He also participated in four named operations that destroyed two enemy caches containing 2,400 pounds of explosives.

In two separate instances, Basanta removed 200-pound IEDs from culverts by approaching to within hands’ reach, attaching ropes and pulling them free so they could be remotely disrupted without causing damage to Afghanistan’s most strategic highway.

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Kentucky’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini (right), presents Tech. Sgt. Robert L. Woods of the 123rd Civil Engineer Squadron with a Bronze Star Medal during a ceremony held Nov. 20, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. Woods earned the combat decoration for his exceptionally meritorious service while deployed to Afghanistan as an explosive ordnance disposal team leader supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora)

He also provided valuable insight into enemy tactics, safely disrupting two IEDs by deciphering their initiation systems and intended targets. His surgical disruption techniques and detailed exploitation resulted in flash reports to the field, alerting coalition forces and Afghan National Security forces to new threats, the narrative said.

Meuser distinguished himself by exceptionally meritorious service while assigned to 466th Explosive Ordnance Flight Bravo, Combined Joint Task Force Paladin-South, Kandahar, Afghanistan, from Aug. 25, 2010 to Feb. 22, 2011.

During that time, Meuser led a three-person team on more than 72 combat missions covering the 675-square-kilometer Ground Defense Area surrounding Kandahar Air Field, according to the narrative that accompanies his award citation. He responded to and rendered safe 15 IEDs and destroyed over 3,000 legacy unexploded ordnance and enemy weapons cache items, thus limiting the IED threat and reducing the number-one insurgent weapon used against International Security Assistance Force troops.

Notably, Meuser led his team during named operations in support of British Regimental Forces and U.S. Army Scouts who infiltrated two compounds suspected of harboring known IED facilitators responsible for 40 indirect fire attacks on Kandahar Air Field. His team meticulously cleared areas identified as IED threats, enabling the successful capture of the primary objective, the narrative said.

Additionally, Mueser was pivotal in the disposal of more than 50,000 pounds of excess or dangerously unserviceable North Atlantic Treaty Organization munitions, allowing logistics resources to focus on battlefield resupply and saving the United States millions of dollars in redeployment costs.

Woods distinguished himself by exceptionally meritorious service while also assigned to 466th Explosive Ordnance Flight Bravo, Combined Joint Task Force Paladin-South, Kandahar, Afghanistan, from Aug. 25, 2010 to Feb. 22, 2011.

During that time, Woods led 42 combat missions that rendered safe, recovered, destroyed or exploited numerous IEDs, unexploded ordnance and weapons caches, according to the narrative that accompanies his award citation. He also conducted post-blast analysis missions throughout Regional Command-South, collecting evidence that was instrumental in the detention of two bomb-making facilitators in Kandahar Province.

Woods’ expertise was evident when he devised and implemented an innovative safing procedure against a dud-fired, rocket-propelled grenade that lodged in the door of an armored troop-transport vehicle during a route-clearing mission, the narrative said. After Woods neutralized the ordnance, he meticulously analyzed the remaining vehicles in the convoy and discovered two more that were contaminated with ordnance residue. His resulting actions minimized the potential for damage and preserved more than $2 million in combat vehicles for future operations, releasing critical life-saving resources back into the fight.

Woods also effectively evaluated, safed and destroyed more than three tons of explosive remnants of war, thereby preventing their use against coalition forces.

The three Bronze Star recipients are among the hundreds of Kentucky Air National Guardsmen who have been mobilized worldwide in support of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn during the past decade. The unit has deployed personnel overseas more than 3,400 times since Sept. 11, 2001.

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