Crane Army explosives handler and Air National Guardsman Staff Sgt. Tyler Shields, seen here at work, received the Air Force Combat Action Medal for his actions in Iraq in 2004.

CRANE, Ind. - A Crane Army Ammunition Activity employee hired in 2008 recently became one of the first Indiana Air National Guard Airmen to receive the Air Force Combat Action Medal for his heroic actions while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004.

Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Tyler Shields, currently an explosive handler for Crane, received the medal for his actions in August 2004. Shields, from the 181st Fighter Wing, had been attached to the Army's 1058th Gun Truck Company in Iraq, where he helped to provide convoy security.

Shields was driving in a convoy between Tikrit and Baghdad when the tractor trailer in front of him activated an improvised explosive device, followed immediately by small arms fire. Shields pulled his truck over to protect the disabled tractor trailer, exited his vehicle and returned fire with his M-16 rifle. He then climbed onto the back of the truck to provide cover fire, allowing the truck's gunner, Shield's best friend, Staff Sgt. Jerod Wright, to reload his weapon.

Putting themselves in the line of fire to protect their fellow servicemen earned Shields and Wright the medal for their actions that day.

Being considered a hero though, is talk that a modest Shields shies away from in conversation. He explains, "For the recent medal that was awarded to Jerod and me, I was asked how I felt to be a hero. I don't consider myself a hero. I did my job to the best of my ability and tried to stay alive and hopefully made a difference in a land that desperately needed our support. I trust and pray that we reached a few in Iraq and were an example to all. It is a privilege for me to wear the uniform and to do the job of a Soldier."

After returning to the U.S., Shields struggled with the transition to civilian life. He said that six weeks after his return, his oldest sister passed away at the age of 30. He explained that pressure from his feelings came to the surface and he began to realize he could not survive at home alone.

He said that he then found strength in prayer and through his parents, whom he could never repay for their love and support. Tyler added that most importantly his wife Laurissa was his shelter during his recovery transition. He also said he found faith through his combat veteran friends at the Linton Indiana Veterans of Foreign Wars, and especially through Wright, whom he described as closer than any brother.

"Jerod and I were together every step of the tour in Iraq and he is employed here at Crane Navy," Shields said. "Now, with time, I have overcome many obstacles that face individuals in this situation. I pushed through and became stronger as a National Guardsman and civilian.

"I am proud of my service and of the accomplishments we had as a company in Iraq. I will keep learning each day and push forward with training each and every month to become the best in my unit in the event my country would call again. If called again, I am ready."

Shields said that since returning to Indiana, he has come to appreciate all the comforts he could not enjoy in Iraq.

"I am so thankful for the luxuries we have here in the United States; I am grateful for the freedom and comfort. We, as a company, would go days without access to running water or warm food. When you slept you were never secure in your mind for your very safety, the same when traveling. How thankful I am to know I am here alive in the greatest land. I pray I never take for granted of all the privileges I have had available to me. Privileges that millions worldwide would beg to have. I am proud to represent the United States Armed Forces, and my state of Indiana."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16