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Col. Scott Goodwin, left, 374th Airlift Wing commander, presents the Bronze Star Medal to Chief Master Sgt. Carl Hunsinger during a ceremony Wednesday at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
Col. Scott Goodwin, left, 374th Airlift Wing commander, presents the Bronze Star Medal to Chief Master Sgt. Carl Hunsinger during a ceremony Wednesday at Yokota Air Base, Japan. (Vince Little / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The Army’s widespread combat convoy missions in Iraq created a huge demand for reliable military vehicle operators.

In February 2004, the Air Force provided a personnel injection that redefined the career field and lifted U.S. efforts throughout the theater. Since then, more than 50 airmen have received Purple Hearts, one awaits a Silver Star, and at least 70 earned Bronze Stars.

Wednesday, Chief Master Sgt. Carl Hunsinger, former chief enlisted manager, 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron, became the latest to receive a medal, picking up the Bronze Star for meritorious service.

From July 2004, he spent seven months in Mosul, northern Iraq, as 7th Corps Support Battalion’s 494th Truck Company chief enlisted manager and first sergeant.

Col. Scott Goodwin, 374th Airlift Wing commander, made the presentation in a brief ceremony at the Yokota Enlisted Club.

“We’re here to recognize outstanding performance in ground combat operations,” he said. “Two years ago, this would’ve been unheard of in the Air Force. Today, the single most important and dangerous mission our airmen are conducting is combat convoy operations in Iraq. … One of those right in the thick of the fight was Chief Hunsinger.”

Hunsinger, now 374th Mission Support Group superintendent, guided 160 airmen within the company and worked with 950 soldiers as the battalion’s acting command sergeant major. Officials credit his leadership for the safe passage of 505 convoy runs, which moved more than 957,000 freight tons of cargo and 800 passengers over 2.9 million miles throughout northern Iraq.

He led nine convoy missions, including two recovery operations that salvaged casualties and trucks from roadside bomb sites without further U.S. losses.

“None of us can do this by ourselves,” Hunsinger told the audience. “It takes a team to make anything happen over there.”

A roadside bomb early in Hunsinger’s deployment killed an airman first class from a 20-member crew out of Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.

“Keeping the troops together after losing our airman was difficult,” he recalled. “When you lose one of your own, it’s like losing a family member. You have to let them recover and get them ready to do the mission. It took a lot of counseling.

“They regained their confidence. I’m proud of every one of those guys.”

According to the Bronze Star citation, Hunsinger voluntarily assessed the perimeter defenses of Logistics Support Area Diamondback in Mosul, documenting vulnerabilities and suggesting improvements. He hardened vehicles by arranging for full armor on truck cabs and gun boxes.

His training methods compelled airmen to sharpen wartime skills, the citation said, and he devised standardized documentation for those performing duties outside their normal specialties. He also arranged for an $886,000 shipment of night-vision and infrared equipment.

Hunsinger said Air Force convoy specialists are proving themselves at every level — including special operations — and have integrated successfully with the Army to tackle the overall mission in Iraq.

“It really worked well,” he said. “We came together and made a big difference.”

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