Mideast edition, Tuesday, July 31, 2007
NAVAL AIR STATION SIGONELLA, Italy — For nine months, Petty Officer 2nd Class William Congdon thought he’d joined the “Narmy” — that new batch of sailors working alongside soldiers in Iraq.
For nine months, missions took him and team members outside the safety of the wire, where they applied their expertise to hunt down and dismantle the roadside bombs that litter the war zone’s roadways.
“We were constantly with the Army, going out to fight, on route-clearing missions, cleaning roads of [improvised explosive devices] that were detractions to the convoy,” said Congdon, 24, with Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit Eight, based out of NAS Sigonella.
On Monday, Rear Adm. Joe Leidig, deputy commander of the Navy’s U.S. 6th Fleet, awarded 13 sailors of the Sigonella unit with 13 Bronze Stars. Some sailors also were awarded a Navy Commendation Medal, an Army Commendation Medal, a Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal and a Joint Service Achievement Medal.
The fact that he awarded so many to a single unit is indicative of the Navy’s increased importance and involvement in the nation’s war on terror, and the tremendous work accomplished by the sailors during their deployments, Leidig told the group.
“When you look at the number of missions these sailors did out there, 50 and 60 missions, involving anywhere from 50 to 100 [roadside bombs], these sailors are highly deserving of the Bronze Star,” Leidig said.
Authorized on Feb. 4, 1944, the Bronze Star is awarded to members of all branches of the military, and may be awarded for either combat heroism or meritorious service. When awarded for combat heroism, the combat V is affixed to the medal, distinguishing from combat heroism or valor, from meritorious service.
During Monday’s ceremony, two of the 13 sailors’ Bronze Stars included the V device: Petty Officer 1st Class John Fleming and Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Von Gogh.
Von Gogh, 27, has deployed four times in his eight-year career.
When he trained, he never thought he’d be warding off threats of roadside bombs in Iraq, “but that’s what you hope you get to do,” he said. “That’s what we train for.”
Their training is a never-ending cycle, as the military tries to keep up with insurgents who are always trying to find more clever ways to hide roadside bombs, said Fleming, who was assigned with SEAL Team 3 during his six-month deployment to Iraq from April 2006 to October 2006.
“There are so many new threats. They’re changing their TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) and we’re always changing ours to meet that. And we’re always striving to be safe.”