Sailors earn Bronze Stars

To Chief Petty Officer Richard Fleischer and Gunner’s Mate Second Class Douglas Hight, their job is just that: a job.

But the Bronze Star with Combat V the men received Thursday indicates otherwise.

The citation recognizes Fleischer and Hight, both members of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Eleven based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, for heroic achievement in combat operations, with the “V” signifying that the men performed an act of combat heroism, or valor.

Their unit commanding officer, Cmdr. Martin Beck, presented the medals at a ceremony on the Seaplane base Thursday morning. In an impromptu speech, he expressed his gratitude for the actions and dedication to duty shown by Fleischer and Hight.

“The dedication, the training — putting it in words seems to fall short of the true meaning,” Beck said. “These people here are making a difference every day.”

Fleischer and Hight, along with their EOD team, were deployed to Iraq from July 2004 to February 2005.

The unit’s seven-month deployment was the first for Hight, and the third for Fleischer, but his first in-country tour in Iraq. They operated in an area south of Baghdad and were responsible for disarming and disposing of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) — such as roadside bombs, explosive materials and other unexploded ordnance.

Fleischer, a team leader in the EOD unit, conducted 72 combat missions and rendered 17 IEDs safe; Hight, a primary down-range EOD technician, conducted 70 missions and rendered 13 IEDs safe. The team also disposed of more than 108,000 unexploded ordnance items.

Those actions were heroic in and of themselves. But it was the unit’s rescue of a Military Police patrol that put Fleischer and Hight in the spotlight.

In a letter accompanying each man’s citation, Vice Admiral P.M. Walsh stated:

“While providing Explosive Ordnance Disposal support for United States Army Special Forces in Al Kut, Iraq the base came under attack by rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire. He and his team engaged the insurgent stronghold to free a Military Police patrol that was pinned down outside the gate. His actions denied explosive materials to insurgent groups and provided safety to Coalition forces.”

Fleischer, who has been a sailor for 17 years, transferred to the EOD unit just over five years ago. The Modesto, Calif. native said he spent the first 12 years of his service as an air-traffic controller, but eventually “wanted something a little more adventurous.” He found his niche in the EOD unit.

“There’s mixed emotions when you go out there,” he said of his tour in Iraq. “It’s kind of hard to describe. You go through an emotional roller coaster. But it makes me feel good because I could be saving someone’s life.”

Hight, originally from Lubbock, Texas, joined the Navy four years ago. Like Fleischer, he enjoys the adventure of EOD and the feeling that, by discovering and disarming explosives, he’s been an active part of beating the enemy.

“It’s what I trained to do,” he said. “It’s the greatest job. It’s never boring, never dull.”

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