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Three Charleston Airmen awarded Bronze Star by CJCS

By 2nd Lt. Susan Carlson | Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs | June 03, 2010

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- For three well-deserving Joint Base Charleston Airmen, June 3 marked a milestone in each of their careers. Maj. William Skinner, Master Sgt. Sean P. Houlihan and Staff Sgt. Christopher Ferrell were awarded the Bronze Star for bravery at the hand of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen during his base visit here.

"Admiral Mullen presenting this medal to me embodies, in my estimation, what a true leader he is. I truly thank the Admiral for taking the time to present this award which I feel honors my entire U.S. Air Force explosive ordnance disposal community," said Sergeant Ferrell, the noncommissioned officer in charge of training for the 628th Civil Engineer Squadron.

Admiral Mullen hosted an all hands call in order to honor the recipients and provide Airmen the opportunity to dialogue with him through a question and answer session.

"It is a privilege to be able to do this [award ceremony], I say to the three of you, congratulations for a job well done. We are exceptional in the military because of what you do, you and so many others; I just want to express my appreciation for that," Admiral Mullen said.

As part of the ceremony, Admiral Mullen called the families of the recipients to join them on stage in order to thank them for their dedication and support as well.

"In particular I want to re-emphasize the criticality and appreciation of family support - what you do and sacrifice is every bit as special as those of us that go forward and carry out the mission," Admiral Mullen said.

The first recipient, standing with his wife next to him, was Major Skinner, 628th Force Support Squadron operations officer, who earned his medal while deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his "exemplary leadership, personal endeavor and devotion to duty" during his time there.

Major Skinner's leadership was crucial in the integration of more than 600 Airmen at 24 austere locations into one organized unit supporting the joint fight. In addition, Major Skinner's squadron provided combat support to more than 16,000 personnel within the Afghan National Army and Police as well as joint task forces.

"There are so many great things being accomplished every day by our fellow Airmen that are changing our Air Force warfighting paradigm. Our Joint Expeditionary Tasking Airmen are working side by side with our Army, Navy, and Marine brethren," said Major Skinner.

His dedication to his Airmen was clearly exemplified when Major Skinner completed more than 20 outside the wire missions, often at risk of attack from IEDs or small arms fire, in order to assess the health and welfare of his Airmen.

"It is a great honor to have the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff present me with the Bronze Star and to be able to share this moment with my wife and my fellow Airmen at Joint Base Charleston," said Major Skinner.

The day's ceremony continued with the presentation of the second Bronze Star to Sergeant Houlihan, 628th Air Base Wing Public Affairs superintendent.

After the reading of the citation, Sergeant Houlihan, accompanied by his wife and daughter, was awarded the Bronze Star for exceptionally meritorious achievements as the deputy chief of public affairs for a joint task force in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

"This was a very difficult deployment due to the secrecy of the Special Operation missions as I wasn't able to share my experience with my family. For them to see the Chairman acknowledge my accomplishment made all the hardships worth it," Sergeant Houlihan said.

Sergeant Houlihan was assigned to a U.S. Special Operations Command Task Force, thus the majority of their accomplishments remain classified.

"For six months I spoke to them about the weather, what food was served at the dining facility and my daily workout routine," said the 20-year veteran.

Sergeant Houlihan added that even though he has worked for two former chairmen, there was a sense of excitement when the chairman comes to a base, as it is usually a once in a career opportunity. Having all of JB CHS be a part of the experience made the ceremony even more memorable.

The third and final recipient, Sergeant Ferrell, was awarded the Bronze Star for his exemplary acts of courage, "unrelenting perseverance and steadfast devotion" during his deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism.

While on his six month tour, Sergeant Ferrell was the EOD team lead for 64 combat missions under constant threat of enemy attack. He directly contributed to the destruction of 54,000 pounds of munitions items, 128 improvised explosive devices, 108 unexploded ordnance items, 71 named ops and cleared 6,871 miles of roadway, according to his citation.

During a route clearance operation Sergeant Ferrell's convoy was struck by a large IED resulting in coalition casualties. Immediately Sergeant Ferrell cleared the area of secondary devices and began combat life saving procedures on wounded U.S. soldiers, but despite his efforts, a friend's life was lost. He quickly prepared his comrade's body for transport and conducted a post blast analysis which undoubtedly saved more coalition lives from enemy IED's.

"This is just one of many events that will remain with me for the rest of my life. The brave men and women I have had the honor of serving along-side in the U.S. Air Force EOD community are the reason I can't leave this career field ... this life. I humbly accept this medal on behalf of my team and the two great men who gave their lives for the protection of the freedoms that all Americans enjoy," Sergeant Ferrell said.

The Admiral closed the ceremony by commending the individuals for their courage and commitment to the deployed mission.

"There is an awful lot in those three awards that [embody] our mission in Afghanistan," Admiral Mullen said. "And, to say the least, we just flat out can't get it done without outstanding Airmen like the ones we just recognized."

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