Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Gigi B. Manning thought she was just doing her job when she traveled more than 800 miles through hostile areas in Afghanistan checking on operating bases, but her supervisors weren't so humble in their assessment of her performance.
Manning, 44, was awarded the Bronze Star in a ceremony Sunday at Charleston Air Force Base because she "distinguished herself as the Chief Enlisted Manager of Detachments 1 and 2 of the 755th Air Expeditionary Group supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan."
The U.S. military awards the Bronze Star to individuals for heroism, bravery or meritorious service. It's the nation's fourth-highest combat medal.
Manning, a Bennettsville native stationed at the Charleston Air Force Base, said she was "overwhelmed and tremendously honored" about receiving the medal. She has served in the Air Force for nearly 25 years and spent six months in Afghanistan in mid-2008.
Air Force public affairs officials said Manning, under constant threat of hostile fire and improvised explosive devices, "bravely worked as a truck commander, driver, spotter and shooter; traveling more than 800 miles to 10 forward operating bases supporting Airman as they performed their missions in an austere combat environment."
Manning said Monday that she traveled with a convoy to bases in all five military regions of Afghanistan. Her role, she said, was to be "eyes on" — that is, to make sure everyone was doing well and to see if the bases needed additional support. If they did, it was her job to report their needs to headquarters. She also acted as liaison between the Air Force and the Army, she said.
The work was dangerous, Manning said. She remembered an incident where people in her convoy spotted suspected insurgents building a culvert, a spot where they likely would place an explosive device. Her team checked on the spot on its way back from its mission and learned that a device had been placed in the culvert. The team then blew it up, she said.
Manning said she didn't stop to feel good about finding and exploding the device, she just thought to herself, "Where's the next one?"
"You know any given day something could happen," she said, "but you don't let that be your focus. You just do your job to the best of your ability."
Lt. Col. Rob McDaris, commander of the 315th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and Manning's commander at the Charleston Air Force Base, called Manning "a very dynamic individual."
She has reached the highest enlisted rank in the Air Force, he said, and is especially skilled at talking to people "on their level." Manning, he said, is "a great mentor and communicator to enlisted ranks."