Sometimes known as the Bronze Star Medal or “Ground Medal”. the Bronze Star is awarded to any member of the U.S. military for heroic service, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service in a combat zone. Foreign militaries and civilians may also be awarded the medal.
There have been notable recipients throughout history who have earned this award, such as U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alan Cozzalio, a helicopter pilot, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Robert E. Cushman Jr., the 25th Commandant of the Marine Corps, and Mark Esper, the 27th Secretary of Defense.
Among these men and women stands Master Sgt. Thomas Williams, 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Unit at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., weapons loading non-commissioned officer in charge.
Williams earned the medal for his meritorious achievement as Armament Program Manager and Weapons Safety Air Advisor, 440th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron, while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force at Forward Operating Base Oqab, Kabul, Afghanistan.
“I was selected for a year-long deployment to Kabul, Afghanistan, working for the Train Advise Assist Command as the advisor to the Afghan air force and Afghan national army,” said Williams. “I had just come home from Turkey, a short (temporary duty) assignment, and about two days after I returned, my chief from [Royal Air Force] Lakenheath, England told me I had been selected to go to Afghanistan immediately.”
During his year-long deployment, Williams conducted 187 outside the wire missions in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Resolute Support mission, mentoring the Afghan air force munitions squadron commander and three sergeant majors on munitions safety and personnel management. He also developed and implemented the syllabus for joint armament and munitions instruction used by the first all-Afghan aircraft loading and maintenance class.
“[My mission was] to train, advise and assist,” said Williams. “To sum that up, we [aimed] to train [Afghan personnel] to work a variety of programs. As a weapons specialist and armament troop myself, I was tasked with working with aircraft systems as far as loading weapons, maintaining the systems and troubleshooting any malfunctions or faults.”
With his experience in both explosives and safe handling, he found even more ways to serve.
“With my familiarity with explosives, I was [appointed as] an advisor and trainer for the Munitions Command [that involved] the building, [storing], handling and delivery of munitions and their components,” said Williams.
It was through Williams’ efforts that the Afghan air force leadership were empowered to coordinate training for 30 maintenance technicians, reallocate 58 personnel and identify 47 infrastructure repairs, laying ground work for a more viable, integrated and professional Afghan air force.
“[Williams] was responsible for about eight different things outside of his career field,” said Master Sgt. Bradley Smith, 62nd AMU section chief, who was deployed alongside Williams. “He was in charge of the United Service Operations, or USO, mail and managing resources for the Afghan air force. [He was] the go-to guy in every aspect that had to do with building the Afghan air force.”
His knowledge and experience were key to the development of the 440th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron and the Afghan military, as well as the relationship between the U.S. and Afghan partners.
“We felt like a part of their community and culture,” said Smith. “When you’re in that environment, we get to see how they interact, the patriotism that they have, and it’s powerful.”
For his leadership inside and outside the wire at FOB Oqab, Williams was selected for the prestigious award. He went above and beyond in enhancing the Afghan air force’s capabilities, training practices, efficiency, and operability with U.S. forces as a whole.