Selfridge Airman Honored For Combat Leadership

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
A decade ago, he was a newly-minted master sergeant, wondering if he had what it takes to truly be a leader. Today, one of the classrooms where the Air Force teaches Airmen about leadership is named in his honor.

"It was the first real test of my leadership skills," Master Sgt. Charlie Peterson says of the battles he survived in Iraq in 2004. "I didn't really know until that day if I would be able to put all the pieces together."

In 2004, Peterson was deployed to Iraq, leading a team of Air Force truck drivers who were assigned to convoy duty to support the U.S. Army. Twice he survived direct, intense attacks on his convoy. In recognition of the leadership skills he employed while under attack, one of the classrooms at the Noncommissioned Officers Academy at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., has been named in his honor.

Peterson, a traffic management specialist with the 127th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, was one of the first six Airmen in the Air Force - and the very first one in either the Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve - to earn the Combat Action Medal as a result of his 2004 duties in Iraq.

In late 2003, Peterson was a member of the 927th Air Refueling Wing of the Air Force Reserve, which was then stationed at Selfridge. He was mobilized along with several other Selfridge Airmen to form the 1058th Air Expeditionary Force Truck Company in Iraq. At the time, convoy duty was one of the most dangerous duties in Iraq. To prepare for the mission, Peterson and his fellow Airmen underwent combat training with the Army both in the U.S. and in Kuwait. While in Kuwait, just days before entering Iraq in early 2004, Peterson was promoted to master sergeant and was made a platoon leader within the company.

On July 28, 2004, Peterson was riding in the command truck in a 20-truck convoy when the convoy was hit by a roadside improvised explosive device, or IED. The truck in front of him was destroyed in the blast and Peterson suffered shrapnel wounds to the face and forearm, saved from additional injury by his body armor. Following the blast, in which a civilian contractor was killed, Peterson took charge of the scene, established a defensive perimeter and eventually directed the resumption of the convoy on its mission. Upon reaching a safe zone, Peterson was medically evacuated by helicopter to allow his wounds to be treated.

Just over a week later, on Aug. 5, 2004, Peterson was riding in a convoy of approximately 50 vehicles en route to Mosul, Iraq, that was ambushed with IEDs and a concentrated attack by enemy forces.

"We literally had to fight our way into the city," Peterson recalled of the incident. "An Army rapid response team came out to support us and, between the convoy and that team, we had to fight every inch of the way in.

"They were hitting us with RPG fire, AK fire - everything you can think of. I was laying down fire out of a window as we forced our way into the city," Peterson said.

While several vehicles were destroyed in that firefight and two U.S. troops were injured, all the Airmen and Soldiers survived.

"It was certainly nothing you would expect to be involved in being in the Air Force, but that was the mission we were assigned to," Peterson said.

The NCO Academy at Tyndall honored Peterson during a ceremony on March 27, 2013, which he attended.

"We were given the opportunity to name our flight's classroom after someone who had gone above and beyond during a deployment," explained Technical Sgt. Michelle Miller, a student at the NCO Academy, where mid-career Airmen are taught the necessary leadership skills to prepare for service as a senior NCO.

After meeting Peterson, Miller commented that the classroom honor turned out to be a case of "good things happening to good people."

The honor at the NCO Academy for Peterson was not the first time he was called to a ceremony as a result of his 2004 combat. In 2007, the Air Force created the Air Force Combat Action Medal to recognize the specific accomplishments of those Airmen who had been called upon to serve in ground combat roles more commonly associated with Army service. At that time, Peterson and the other five initial recipients of the award, were called to a ceremony at the Air Force Memorial in Washington D.C. where then-Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley personally pinned the award on Peterson and his peers.

Peterson, who is also a musician, said being a leader is in some ways similar to creating a piece of music.

"You lay down different tracks of music, the vocals. If you listen to each piece individually, it doesn't sound like much. But when you put it all together, you have something," he said. "Leadership isn't just doing one thing. Its knowing your people, putting things together in a way that makes sense. And to be listening for new sounds and new ideas to improve."

Peterson has served his nation in Air Force blue for more than 23 years. He initially served for eight years on active duty. He then returned home to the Detroit area and served for 10 years in the Air Force Reserve at Selfridge. When the 927th ARW relocated to MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., in 2007, Peterson transferred to the Michigan Air National Guard and has served with the 127th LRS ever since.

Comprised of approximately 1,600 personnel and flying both the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the KC-135 Stratotanker, the 127th Wing supports Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operations Command by providing highly-skilled Airmen to missions domestically and overseas. The 127th Wing is the host unit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which is also home to units of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection.