War on Terrorism

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sun Prairie Guardsman receives Bronze Star with valor device

More than five years after a fierce firefight on his first solo mission in Iraq, a former Wisconsin National Guard Soldier was awarded a Bronze Star medal with "V" device for valor.

Michael Olivas of Sun Prairie - a staff sergeant with the 1158th Transportation Company when he completed his term of service earlier this year - accepted the award during a quiet ceremony Tuesday (Sept. 14) at Stricker Pond Park in Middleton, a completely different setting from the night his heroism was called upon.

"To receive a bronze star medal is a significant event," Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, said during the ceremony. "The "V" device, they don't just give those away - that's not candy."

The 1158th Transportation Company was conducting its first convoy security missions on Jan. 30, 2005 without the benefit of riders from the outgoing unit that trained them. The convoy Olivas was traveling in experienced a series of tire problems with various vehicles, due in part to road spikes placed just north of Safwan, a city on Iraq's border with Kuwait. During a stoppage on a main convoy route, the convoy was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire. Olivas' crew members, Spc. (now Staff Sgt.) Mike Bennett and Spc. Aaron Ingham, were outside their gun truck assisting disabled vehicles when the ambush began.

"It was dark," Bennett recalled. "There was no moon out."

"He just kept engaging muzzle flashes," Ingham added.

Olivas overcame malfunctions in the rotating turret and with his M-2 50-caliber machine gun to engage the enemy, which was estimated to be as close as 50 meters from the convoy.

"He definitely did lay down a lot of cover fire," Bennett said. "Once he got it going, he saved a lot of people."

Another convoy south of Olivas' convoy also engaged the enemy in that firefight. Eight members of that convoy were wounded, but Olivas' convoy sustained no injuries as they regrouped and moved out of harm's way.

Olivas, who recently returned from a deployment with the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and now works in accounting with the Veterans Administration in Madison, said his actions were "pretty automatic."

"The ground started flying, [insurgents] were moving in and we had to fight them off," he explained. "It's what we were trained for - not a whole lot of thinking required. I was just doing what we were supposed to do."

Olivas said the award means a lot and was excited to receive it, but wished his fellow crew members Bennett and Ingham could have also received Bronze Stars for their actions that night.

"We had a good unit - everyone worked hard," he said. "Everyone came back alive."

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