Fort Wayne native receives Bronze Star for work against Islamic State

Maj. Gen. Christopher J. Bence, commander of the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., left, shows the Bronze Star Medal being awarded to Chief Master Sgt. Ricky Smith, a Fort Wayne native. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)
Maj. Gen. Christopher J. Bence, commander of the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., left, pins the Bronze Star Medal onto Chief Master Sgt. Ricky Smith, a Fort Wayne native. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)
Chief Master Sgt. Ricky Smith, a Fort Wayne native, received the Bronze Star Medal on Nov. 21 during a ceremony at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Gustavo Gonzalez)

A Fort Wayne native recently received the Bronze Star Medal for helping create an airfield that helped U.S. forces defeat the Islamic State in Mosul.

Chief Master Sgt. Ricky Smith received the award Nov. 21 with six other airmen from the 621 Contingency Response Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.

Smith, a 1996 Wayne High School graduate, is based at Travis Air Force Base in California. He found receiving the award – given to members of the United States Armed Forces for either heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service in a combat zone – a humbling experience.

“It’s not about me,” said Smith, 37, who still has his father and grandparents in the Ashley area. “It’s about the team.”

Smith deployed with 100 airmen as part of Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Northern Syria. He served as chief enlisted manager and air transportation superintendent at Qayyarah West Airbase, Iraq, from October 2016 to January 2017. Within 48 hours of arrival, Smith found and readied a 90,000-square-foot download and staging area, and allocated an 800,000-square-foot cargo yard that could accommodate 20 C-130 aircraft loads.

“It’s eradicating evil,” he said of the mission. The Islamic State “had a scorched earth policy. (The team) helped liberate Mosul. The airmen did what was asked of them.”

Growing up in Waynedale he’d watch the F-16s flown by the Indiana Air National Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing and thought of becoming an aircraft mechanic. He joined the Air Force in September 1996. He has deployed overseas six times, this being his third time in Iraq.

Over the years he’s missed many important events: his wife’s birthday, their wedding anniversary, the first day of school for his three children.

“I have a 7- and a 5-year-old,” he said of his youngest children. “It’s hard for them to understand.” However, he can see his family through FaceTime video chats.

While there wasn’t a lot of downtime, the group found some fun activities in the desolate place, including cornhole after the medical staff sewed together some beanbags.

Thanksgiving came around soon after they arrived and they expected to feast on field rations. However, the 101st Airborne Division brought in the traditional turkeys.

IS fighters swept across Iraq’s north and west in the summer of 2014 capturing Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul and advancing to the edges of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. Later that year the U.S. began a campaign of airstrikes against the militants that fueled Iraqi territorial gains, allowing the military to retake Mosul in July of this year.

Having received the Broze Star Smith will wear a ribbon on the ribbon rack on his mess dress and service coat that signifies it, which will join others for his deployments and campaigns.

-The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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