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Joseph C. Trumbull

U.S. Air Force / Air Force Combat Action Medal

Clear thinking and precise actions saved 14 lives

First he felt the shock wave—a strong whoosh of air that hit him from behind and almost knocked him to the ground. Then Staff Sgt. Joseph C. Trumbull heard the deafening boom that followed.

Still here, he thought.

“If you hear the boom you are still alive,” he says.

It was barely past noon on Feb. 5, 2005—and the second time in three hours—that Trumbull’s four-vehicle patrol had been hit by an improvised explosive device (IED). It was packed with plastic explosives on a road outside of Balad Air Force Base, about 50 miles north of Baghdad.

Five years later, Trumbull, a 15-year Air Force veteran and currently assigned to RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom, speaks matter-of-factly about the day his clear thinking and precise actions saved the lives of his 14 patrol members.

The squad’s day started out ordinarily enough at Balad, a sprawling logistical hub where up to 17,000 U.S. troops are stationed. In the heart of the Sunni Triangle, it was a prime target for mortar attacks and small arms fire from insurgents who were invisible in villages and along roads.

Silence was in short supply amid the blasts from incoming rockets, the whir of Apache helicopters swooping in and loudspeaker commands to take cover. The attacks were so frequent that troops headed to the showers in helmets and flak vests.

Trumbull’s unit had loaded its four vehicles and headed to a nearby Iraqi village for a routine meet and greet. It was an opportunity to chat up locals and gather intelligence.

Patrol leader Trumbull drove the lead Humvee. As he slowed for a left turn over a narrow bridge, the earth blew up around him. Fifteen pounds of C-4 high explosives had been buried in the dirt, and it jolted Trumbull’s vehicle and the one trailing it.

“It (an IED) caught the rear end of mine and the front end of his,” Trumbull recalls. “Obviously we were moving so he drove right into the big dust cloud.”

Heart pounding, he ordered the patrol vehicles to keep moving before stopping a short distance from the kill zone. Is this a daisy chain, he wondered, will there be another blast? There was no way of knowing for sure.

Miraculously, no one was hurt.

Amid the chaos of ringing ears and choking dust and smoke, the patrol picked up two men who had been walking a short distance from the blast. The vehicles headed back to base via the main supply road.

But as Trumbull rounded a curve, he saw something on the road that stiffened the hairs on the back of his neck and made his stomach churn: a stray bundle of tumbleweed lying oddly and partially buried in the dirt.

“It was lying flat against the ground and it was rounded at the top,” Trumbull says. “I could tell right away there was a hole there and only half was sticking out on top. I knew right away something wasn’t right.”

The patrol formed a wide cordon around what he suspected was a thinly disguised IED. The Humvees had barely stopped when three men hiding in a ditch near a marked mine field jumped up and fled.

Trumbull followed on foot and fired warning shots. Then the IED, packed with 155mm artillery rounds and C-4 explosives, blew.

“We didn’t realize that we were so close,” he said. “I had my back turned toward it; I was so focused on the individuals running. But I felt the air moving around me and then came the boom.”

And yet another miracle: No one was hurt.

Kris Antonelli is a freelance journalist living in Maryland. As a reporter for the Baltimore Sun from 1989 to 2000, her assignments included covering the U.S. Naval Academy.

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Master Sgt. Joseph Trumbull's patrol was dangerously close to where an improvised explosive device detonated in Iraq, but he kept his cool and led his men to safety. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Trumbull)

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Joseph C. Trumbull

U.S. Air Force / Air Force Combat Action Medal

Born July 29, 1976 in Landstuhl, Germany, and grew up in Panama City, Florida. Wife, Misty; daughter, Kirsten, 11.

Began active duty July 6, 1994, and has served more than 10 tours of duty since the start of the second Gulf War.

Deployed to Iraq in August 2004 and at the time of the cited incident was a staff sergeant with Task Force 1041, Operation Desert Safeside, Balad Air Base. Has since been promoted to master sergeant.

After surviving the blast from a roadside bomb, he directed his patrol away from a suspicious piece of tumbleweed that in fact was a second explosive.

Currently is flight chief, 48th Security Forces Squadron, RAF, Lakenheath, United Kingdom.

“My dad was in the Air Force and that's what motivated me, watching him as I grew up. I joined when I was 17, right out of high school.”

Iraq / Balad

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