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Tech. Sgt. Damian M. Cone, with the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan, was awarded the Bronze Star on Monday.

Tech. Sgt. Damian M. Cone, with the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan, was awarded the Bronze Star on Monday. (Juliana Gittler / S&S)

Tech. Sgt. Damian M. Cone, with the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan, was awarded the Bronze Star on Monday.

Tech. Sgt. Damian M. Cone, with the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan, was awarded the Bronze Star on Monday. (Juliana Gittler / S&S)

Bronze Star recipient Tech. Sgt. Michael C. Hullender, with the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Bronze Star recipient Tech. Sgt. Michael C. Hullender, with the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan. (Juliana Gittler / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — In a war often fought on highways against hidden roadside enemies, two Yokota airmen drove and repaired the trucks that delivered essential supplies across Iraq.

For six months they showed heroism in the face of danger — for which, Monday, each was awarded a Bronze Star, among the nation’s highest honors for heroic or meritorious service.

Tech. Sgt. Damian M. Cone and Tech. Sgt. Michael C. Hullender, both assigned to Yokota Air Base, accompanied Army units on a transportation detail in Iraq last year, fixing vehicles, crafting armor and escorting, protecting and repairing conveys.

At their pinning ceremony, 374th Airlift Wing commander Col. Mark Schissler described them as among the first “blue-suiters” to go to Iraq to protect convoys on some of the world’s most dangerous roads.

“Heat, varmints, bandits, bombs, booby traps and snipers were ever present on every journey,” Schissler said. “Damian and Michael represent the very best of America: young men going into harm’s way repeatedly to make sure an important mission gets done. They held nothing back and they asked for nothing in return.”

Hullender, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Vehicle and Vehicular Equipment Element of the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron, led a group at Camp Speicher as a mechanic and driver. He aided readiness by starting a parts-recovery program, creating a diagnostic tool to find faults in self-inflating tires and directing construction of a hangar for mechanics, his medal citation stated.

But his most life-changing experience, he said, was a Baghdad attack he drove into when his convoy was separated.

“I just floored it,” Hullender said, “put my head down, put my hand [with weapon] out the window and went through it” — under a hail of small-arms fire, while returning fire out the window. He made it through and regrouped with the rest of the convoy.

“That really changed my life a lot,” he said.

Cone, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Vehicle Care Center of the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron, led 32 people in a transportation company under the Army 13th Corps Support Command at Logistics Support Area Anaconda. He traveled some of Iraq’s most-attacked roads every day, facing attacks about every third time he went out, he said.

In the lead gun truck, he worried about his safety and that of those in the long line of trucks accompanying him.

Said Schissler at the pinning ceremony: “I’m told the most dangerous position and highest responsibility falls to the right-seat security in the lead gun truck. In that position, Tech. Sgt. Cone assured the safe delivery of the enemy’s favorite target: over 1 million gallons of fuel.”

Cone said a convoy leader was too busy to be anxious. “Once you rolled out the gate, it was just business. You had too much to do to be scared,” he said. “You’re looking for cars abandoned on the side of the road, piles of rocks that shouldn’t be there. You’re looking for a way to get through traffic without stopping. The last thing you want to do is stop the convoy.”

His medal citation mentions one trip when an explosive disabled a truck. Cone secured the scene and scouted a landing zone to help evacuate the injured. The citation praised his leadership, stating that he “took on a nearly impossible Army combat mission and guaranteed its joint success.”

Cone and Hullender credited the people they led with their medals — and their heroism.

“The hardest part about being out there was worrying about your team,” Cone said. “You are more than a family while you’re over there.

“I believed every time we rolled out the gate we all deserved a medal.”


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