435th VRS convoy Airmen earn Army Commendation Medals in Iraq

Monica Mendoza
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***Staff Sgt. David Reyes is the unit deployment manager of the 435th Vehicle Readiness Squadron at Ramstein. He’s waiting for word on the next round of Airmen from his squadron headed to Iraq for convoy duty.

He knows what will be expected of them. He’s been there.
“When I arrived at Ramstein in ’04, I found out the Air Force was starting to do convoys downrange,” said Sergeant Reyes, who was deployed to Iraq for six months.

Sergeant Reyes and eight others from the 435th VRS recently earned the Army Commendation Medal for their work driving convoys for the Army in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. They were among the second group of Airmen sent to Iraq for convoy duty.

The medals, given to members of the U.S. Armed Forces for sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service, were presented to the Airmen while they were downrange by the Army battalion commander.

“It was for all the miles we drove, accident free, without an incident, and for instituting new Humvees into the convoys,” Sergeant Reyes said.

Over the past year and a half, vehicle operators have become important players in the Global War on Terrorism, driving convoys of equipment and supplies across Iraq. In 2004, it was determined that Airmen would assist the Army in the convoy duty, where troops escort trucks through areas where they face armed adversaries.

Staff Sgt. Chris Winfield, 435th VRS NCO in charge of pick-up and delivery, said deaths to military personnel on convoy duty made Airmen take seriously their three-week Basic Combat Convoy Course at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, which they completed before heading to Iraq.

“It made us realize what the training was all about,” Sergeant Winfield said. “It was for real.”

In Texas, the Airmen met up with Airmen from across the Air Force for a crash course on the M-4 assault rifles, a smaller version of the M-16, and training on shooting at night. The daily routine often began at 3 a.m. and ended at 9 p.m. and included a week of tactical exercise at Camp Bullis, Texas, for practice in realistic conditions, Sergeant Winfield said.

Within days of arriving in Iraq, the Airmen were on their first mission, reading the maps, learning the driving routes – all usually at night, where landmarks were burnt out vehicles. Sergeant Winfield ended up on

“I remember my first convoy very clearly,” he said. It was 90-minutes. It was night and it was dark. It seemed like the longest 90 minutes of my life.
“It never gets easier,” Sergeant Winfield said.

Most of the Airmen from the 435th VRS group deployed in that second group have had a permanent change of station from Ramstein, Sergeant Reyes said. But they share a bond that lasts.

“We lived every day thinking, this person could save my life,” Sergeant Reyes said. “I could save his.”

Today, there are 20 vehicle mechanics and 10 drivers from Ramstein working with the Army on convoys, Sergent Reyes said.

“Regardless of any medal, we were all validated by all of us coming back,” Sergeant Reyes said. “We started out from scratch. And, we all came back, every single one of us.”

Members of the 435th Vehicle Readiness Squadron who received the Army Commendation Medal for convoy duty in Iraq are staff sergeants Kimberly LeMaire, Paula Newman, David Reyes, and Rueben Rangel; senior airmen Clay Jennings and Kevin LeMaire; and airmen first class Joshua Soiney and Keith Diaz.