ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE -- It took a while before Master Sgt. Gene Jameson III told his wife what happened in Afghanistan on Aug. 20, 2011.
When he did, and after she got over the initial shock, she put it in what he thought was the right perspective.
“I told her I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but she reminded me God puts us in certain situations to perform certain tasks at certain times, and that’s what he wanted me to do that day,” Jameson said Thursday, just before receiving the Bronze Star with valor for his actions.
What he did, according to the medal citation, was perform an act of heroism that saved the lives of 50 people.
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It all started when an insurgent fired a rocket into the United Arab Emirates Special Operations Compound at Bagram Airfield. That set a building on fire and touched off a raging blaze across the compound the base fire department couldn’t control.
A commander turned to Jameson and asked him to do something to keep the blaze from spreading. Jameson works in the 5th Combat Communications Group at Robins Air Force Base, where he is a policy manager. He had no experience fighting fires but hailing from a unit whose motto is “Let’s Go!,” Jameson began directing heavy equipment to set up a fire break.
During his efforts, he was backing away from fast approaching flames when he tripped over a crate that he quickly realized contained rocket launchers, beside another crate full of grenades.
He and another airman with him knew they had to get the explosives away from the flames, or the lives of those fighting the fire would be lost. At that moment, a building collapsed, blocking their only exit away from the flames.
“I felt like I was in some pretty intense danger, especially when we went to exit and that building collapsed,” Jameson said. “I knew we couldn’t get out. That part was pretty hairy. I was pretty scared.”
His mind then rotated back to the other side of the planet and the things he learned in training on the grounds of Robins, even if it wasn’t about fighting fires.
“You practice a lot, and you learn when there is chaos going on around you, you just keep your priorities straight, and everything usually turns out pretty good,” he said.
So he carefully examined the surroundings and spotted about a 6-foot-wide alley between two buildings fully engulfed in flames. The two men pulled a pallet jack from the rubble, loaded the 500 pounds of explosives on it and began dragging it through the alley more than 150 yards to safety.
When they exited the other side, two firefighters standing there couldn’t believe the two men had just came from the burning buildings.
The citation for his medal credits Jameson with helping save lives that night by getting the explosives away from the flames, as well as helping contain the fire and save the base. The only injuries anyone received that night were a few scrapes and bruises.
The 5th Combat Communications Group is part of the 689th Combat Communications Wing at Robins. Col. Joseph H. Scherrer, wing commander, told the 400-plus troops assembled for the ceremony that a Bronze Star with valor is so rare an honor, it might be the only such ceremony they will ever see. The Bronze Star is the fourth-highest combat medal.
He said he isn’t surprised to see Jameson win such an award.
“He’s hardworking, he’s thorough, he’s professional and he’s a leader,” Scherrer said. “He is exactly the kind of (noncommissioned officer) we look for in the Air Force.”
Scherrer also pointed out a few things Jameson didn’t, such as that he had already worked a 16-hour day when the fire started. It took five hours before the blaze was brought under control.
The citation states that Jameson’s efforts to create the fire break kept it from spreading and saved 90 buildings valued at $8 million.
Master Sgt. Mylo Gibson, who also works in the 5th Combat Communications Group, was at Bagram that night working in the hospital. Although he wasn’t involved in fighting the fire, he saw the seriousness of the blaze and what could have happened.
“Who knows how my night might have ended if he hadn’t done what he did,” Gibson said.
Contact writer Wayne Crenshaw at 256-9725.