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Navy stars win bronze for efforts

Five members from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11 watched as their heroic and meritorious service culminated with the bestowment of the Bronze Star Medal during a ceremony Thursday.

The awards were given to Lt. Cmdr. Nicholas Smith, Ens. Robert Mendenhall, Explosive Ordnance Technician Senior Chief Robert Zimmerman, EOD Chief Richard Higbee, and EOD 1st Class Petty Officer Harvey Fisher. Both Mendenhall and Zimmerman had received a Bronze Star previously.

“This award means a lot to me,” Fisher said. “It’s recognizing the hard work of my team.”

Each of the men were honored for their service in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The group supported the 101st Airborne Division in northern provinces of Iraq.

Smith humbly credited his unit with the extraordinary accomplishments providing protection to Coalition Forces and neutralizing the improvised explosive device threat during deployments in 2006 and 2007.

“This means the unit succeeded in what it had to do,” Smith said. “That’s what it means to me. The award isn’t about me, it’s about the unit accomplishing a job on short notice and everybody pulling together for a successful mission. It’s a culmination of everybody’s hard work.”

Rear Adm. Robert Passmore, Vice Commander, Navy Reserve Forces command, awarded the medals to the sailors at the EODMU-11 compound. After giving the “at ease” command, the unit gave a collective sigh.

“I can remember standing there for hours myself and the first thing I looked forward to was that ‘at ease,’” Passmore said.

The rear admiral could not contain his respect as he addressed the unit.

“As I said last time, and I’m sorry if it’s repetitive, you folks are my heroes. You really are...,” he said. “All I can say is my hat’s off to you.”

Passmore made mention of the three sailors in the unit who were killed in Iraq in April.

“I have lost friends in my service to the Navy and I know we honor them by continuing to serve as they would serve,” he said. “And I think about the friends that I’ve lost everyday and I hope that I’m doing proud by them as I know you are doing proud for your fallen friends.

“I’m very, very proud of each and every one of you,” he concluded. “And I’m very, very proud of your families.”

Five Pearl Harbor survivors attended the ceremony, adding an extra layer of reverence to the event.

“There aren’t very many of us left to come,” said Jim Stansell, president of Pearl Harbor Survivors Association North Cascades Chapter 5, before the ceremony.

The Bronze Star Medal is the fourth-highest award for bravery, heroism or meritorious service for an individual in the U.S. Armed Forces.

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