Stationed at: Ramstein Air Base, Germany
Staff Sgt. Tom Pilla, 86th Construction and Training Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal instructor, was awarded the Bronze Star medal Dec. 13, 2007 for meritorious conduct during operations in Iraq. He shared his award experiences with Public Affairs:
PA: How did you feel when you found out you were to receive the Bronze star?
Sergeant Pilla: Surprised! Honored, to be recognized in such a way for doing what I love. Disheartened, that my team couldn't receive the medal.
PA: What was your role in your deployed location?
Sergeant Pilla: As an EOD team leader, I was responsible for leading an EOD team through the mitigation of all explosive hazards on base as well as off base. We took care of all the rockets and mortars that were fired at the base and didn't detonate upon impact (unexploded ordnances), as well as the countless improvised explosive devices placed along the main supply routes and residential roads.
PA: Where were you deployed to?
Sergeant Pilla: I was assigned to the 332nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq, supporting the 2/82nd Infantry Company for three months and then I went to forward operating base Paliwoda supporting the 3/8th Cavalry for three months.
PA: What were some of the defining moments of your deployment?
Sergeant Pilla: Every time we drove down the road and saw war-stricken people smiling back at us ... those were defining moments. Or when we would see children walking to school with book bags on their backs ... those were defining moments. Or shaking the hands of locals after my team rendered safe an IED placed right by their home, those were defining moments. The first time an IED detonated in extreme close proximity to my team...that was also a defining moment.
PA: Describe the relationship with your Army counterparts, if any.
Sergeant Pilla: I worked with the Army on a daily basis. They provided my security for all off-base missions and their efforts kept me alive on many occasions. Based on this fact alone, I would say that I had a great relationship with my Army security team. They are the true American warriors!
PA: Was there a specific event on your citation? Can you describe that event, if there was one? Please include what you saw, heard and felt.
Sergeant Pilla: My convoy was traveling on a supply route when the lead vehicle was struck and disabled by an IED. I dismounted the vehicle to perform a post blast analysis on the blast site and immediately came under heavy small arms fire from multiple insurgents within 300 meters of my position. Recognizing the severity of the situation, I directed my team to search for secondary IEDs while the entire security element engaged the insurgents with overwhelming firepower. My team quickly located and neutralized a secondary IED that was preventing our movement from the "kill zone."