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Tinker technical sergeant receives Bronze Star

Col. Filcek saluting Tech. Sgt. Lopez during ceremony

Col. Paul Filcek, 72nd Air Base Wing commander, salutes Tech. Sgt. Joe Lopez Jr., 72nd Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, after awarding him the Bronze Star Medal during a ceremony at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, Jan. 13, 2021. Lopez received the Bronze Star for his service in Syria and Iraq from Oct. 10, 2019 to March 31, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Shirk)

Airmen standing on runway during award presentation ceremony

Members of Tinker Air Force Base (AFB), coworkers and family of Tech. Sgt. Joe Lopez Jr., 72nd Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, stand at attention during his Bronze Star Medal presentation ceremony at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, Jan. 13, 2021. Lopez received the Bronze Star for his service in Syria and Iraq from Oct. 10, 2019 to March 31, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Shirk)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --

A technical sergeant from Tinker Air Force Base’s 72nd Operational Support Squadron received the Bronze Star Medal for his service in Syria and Iraq.

Tech. Sgt. Joe Lopez Jr. received the decoration in a Jan. 13, 2021, ceremony held on Tinker’s diagonal Runway 13/31.

“When you deployed, you didn’t just defend your wife and child, you defended my wife and my children,” said Col. Paul Filcek, 72nd Air Base Wing and Tinker installation commander. “We are in the best sisterhood and brotherhood in the existence of the world because every time we put ourselves in harm’s way, we do so for each other and each other’s families. For that we owe you a sincere debt of gratitude. With that, we celebrate you with this Bronze Star.”

From Oct. 10, 2019, to March 31, 2020, Lopez was assigned as the noncommissioned officer in charge of Air Operations and lead landing zone safety officer for the 441st Air Expeditionary Squadron at the Kobani Landing Zone in Syria.

Exposed to significant risk of hostile action from encroaching adversaries across multiple fronts, Lopez oversaw Syria's largest unimproved landing zone. He secured safe operations for 227 combined joint task force combat sorties involving five different airframes, exfiltrating 2,600 tons of cargo and 1,200 coalition military personnel in 33 days.

Lopez also devised two 20,000 square foot helicopter landing zones in support of Army dustoff medical lift and supportive attack helicopter escort operations, reducing their response time by 80%.

In one instance, Lopez cleared the flight paths through combat airspace for two medical evacuation missions, contributing to lifesaving care for two Army members.

He later volunteered to serve as the NCO in charge of Air Traffic Control and Airspace Liaison Officer for Detachment 1, 370th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group, Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center, Iraq.

Under persistent threat of indirect fire and insider attacks conducted by rogue militia groups, Lopez directed seven combined forces air component command air liaison officers through coordination and advising efforts with Baghdad Approach Control Center and the Iraqi Air Force.

His efforts drove the de-confliction of 10,000 combat sorties from 58,000 civilian aircraft, preserving flight safety for 168,000 square miles of airspace and generated $32 million of revenue for Iraq.

“None of this is possible without my support team,” said Lopez, a self-proclaimed man of few words. “To my wife and daughter, thank you. And thank you to my team here at work.”

The Bronze Star Medal is awarded to members of the United States Armed Forces for either heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service in a combat zone.