Stationed at: Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany
For the second time in five years, Senior Master Sgt. Ken Pettibone earned a Bronze Star medal for actions while deployed to the Middle East. The explosive ordnance disposal technician was awarded his medal in a squadron ceremony Dec. 14, 2007, for work he did after serving more than a year in Iraq.
"It was the strangest thing I've done," said Sergeant Pettibone about working intelligence instead of primarily EOD during this time on his fifth deployment. Sergeant Pettibone led a Weapons Intelligence Team as part of a counter-Improvised Explosive Device mission at both Forward Operating Bases Kalsu and Iskandariyah. In layman's terms? His team came in to investigate after any IED blew up.
In an average day in Iraq, the 42-year-old said his team worked 48 hours on, 48 off. When possible, the team "catnapped," but he said they averaged one to eight calls per day, responding to sites ranging in distance from right outside the gates, to blasts 2 1/2-hours drive from the base. Once the EOD techs called an area "safe," Pettibone's team went in. "My job was intel analysis of a blast," he said. "That means fingerprinting insurgents, even if all we had was picking up the hand (at the blast site)."
Of his time deployed, he said he tells his family bits and pieces, but not so much while deployed or even upon his return. "A week after I got in country, one of my friends died," he said. And while he said he chose to "separate" work from calling his wife, he did tell her when things went bad because "I'd rather have her hear it from me."
Everyone knows it takes a unique person to want to work with bombs; however, the EOD Airman with 24 years of service didn't always aspire to work with explosives. "I initially wanted to be a jet mechanic, but there was an 11-month wait." To come in the Air Force when he wanted to, he raised his hand for EOD, noting that he knew nothing about it, but it "looked interesting."
Interestingly, his wife Stacey was in the Air Force for 10 years and worked as an F-16 crew chief. Her thoughts now? "She's tired of it," said Sergeant Pettibone of his deployments and the obvious danger that each trip entails. "We even talked about me not taking the (senior master sergeant) stripe." She is, however, supportive and knows that if he is selected to deploy, then he'll go. This, even after six U.S. Air Force EOD techs were killed during Pettibone's time in Iraq this time.
During the award period for this Bronze Star medal, Sergeant Pettibone's team responded to numerous IED sites and one, in particular, where he led the team out of a mined area that was considered clear. He also directed his team out of an area taking small arms fire during an IED response and, in one instance, was pinned down in a field for more than 20 minutes while being shot at by insurgents. "I was shot at many times, but never shot my weapon," he said.
"This time was different," he said. Sergeant Pettibone's mission his first time in Iraq was clearing weapons caches from Desert Storm. "Then, it was awesome. Everybody loved us," he said. Now, he said, that's not really the case.
This aside, he said that EOD Airmen are "pretty dedicated" and he said there is a huge amount of job satisfaction because "they know it makes a difference."