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Bronze Star recipient chosen to attend State of Union Address

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Jan. 26, 2007) -- When President Bush addressed the nation Jan. 23 for his annual State of the Union address, Airmen around the world listened via television, radio or the Internet. But one Airman watched from inside the U.S. Capitol building where the president gave his speech.

Tech. Sgt. Michelle Barefield, an explosive ordnance disposal specialist assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., was invited to attend the State of the Union address as a guest of the president. She was one of five military members, one from each service, to attend.

Tech. Sgt. Michelle Barefield, an explosive ordnance disposal specialist shown here conducting an operations check for a remote-controlled robot, was invited to attend the State of the Union address Jan. 23 as a guest of the president. She was one of five military members, one from each service, to attend. Sergeant Barefield is currently deployed to Iraq from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Sergeant Barefield, her husband and her older daughter began their time in the Nation's Capital with a trip to the White House where they met with senior White House staffers. Later, she was transported to the U.S. Capitol Building to listen to the president's address. She sat in a special seating area with First Lady Laura Bush.

"The best part for me was meeting Mrs. Cheney and Mrs. Bush," Sergeant Barefield said. "They were very pleasant and asked all kinds of questions. They made us feel welcome, definitely."

Sergeant Barefield was chosen to attend the address in part for her performance a year earlier while deployed to Iraq. Within days of arriving in the country, she and her EOD unit were dispatched to dispose of an improvised explosive device. During that mission, an IED exploded killing one of her teammates and injuring another.

In response to the explosion, Sergeant Barefield put her military training into action. She immediately provided first aid to the injured Airman and then took control of the scene. She organized the sweep for additional hazards, ran the post-blast analysis of the device and oversaw the recovery of her fallen comrade's remains.

That first tragedy was but harbinger of things to come for Sergeant Barefield in Iraq. During her deployment she endured three separate attacks, took part in a gun battle with insurgents and managed the scene after the death of her EOD comrade. She received the Bronze Star for her actions in Iraq.

In all three situations she reacted with skill and professionalism, something she attributes to her military training.

"Everything I learned in my career was useful in those situations," she said. "I was one of the lucky ones, I came out unscathed. The training ... regardless of what you think of training in peacetime at home station ... can apply when you are put in a situation like that."

Sergeant Barefield also said she thinks it is important for her and others to pass their experiences on to new Airmen so they can be prepared for their time overseas.

"I want to tell new Airmen coming into EOD especially: talk to the people who have gone over there and see what they experienced and learn from then," she said. "You never really know what you will encounter. Even going through the training before hand, you can't imagine how it is going to be. So if you talk to people who have been there you may be more prepared."