Ten hours is an absolute eternity in a firefight.
That’s what Explosive Ordnance Disposal 1st Class Jeffrey Thomas experienced over the course of Oct. 20 and 21, 2016, as his convoy conducted clearance operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Thomas, a native of California, continuously maneuvered during the fight under a barrage of small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and mortar fire to engage the enemy and clear a path for the convoy.
When the convoy was finally ordered to break contact and make their way out of the kill zone, the lead vehicle rolled over one of seven daisy-chained improvised explosive devices.
The massive explosion killed the EOD supervisor, Thomas' friend and mentor.
Realizing the dire situation, the sailor assigned to Coronado-based Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 3 exited his vehicle and hastily got to work, sweeping the rest of the area for explosives despite a hail of enemy rounds, RPGs and mortars impacting around him.
Clearing a path of additional explosives allowed medics enough time to reach the disabled vehicles and evacuate casualties. Still exposed to enemy fire, Thomas guided the convoy out of the intricate mine field and safely to a medical evacuation landing zone.
“No one that was present on the 20th of October knew better than Jeff the dangers he was facing,” Cmdr. Geoff Townsend, the commanding officer of EODMU 3, said in a 2017 Navy release. “After the EOD supervisor, a friend and mentor, was mortally wounded, Jeff knowingly exposed himself to hazards in order to protect the lives of his teammates and brothers in arms, and secure a MEDEVAC for his wounded teammate. His actions that day saved the lives of his teammates and exceeded all measures of selflessness and devotion to his country.”
Thomas was awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award for valor, for his actions during the seemingly endless firefight with ISIS forces.
He was presented the award on Sept. 20, 2017, by Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran onboard Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado, California.
“Today we recognize the heroic actions of individuals and the legacy of their teammates," Moran said at the ceremony. “This recognition is well deserved, and it’s an acknowledgment of bravery, training, and dedication to team and country.”
That ceremony also included a Bronze Star with Combat "V" award presented to Lt. Morgan Dahl for actions during the same firefight.
Thomas enlisted in the Navy in August 2010 and was promoted to a first class in December 2016. He is also the recipient of a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medal with Combat “V.”
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.