THE VILLAGES — The email started out “had a proud day yesterday.”
Lee and Jan Bernhard had been waiting to hear from their son, Maj. Bill Bernhard, an Air Force intelligence officer who was due back from a yearlong tour of duty in Iraq.
In the joy of hearing he was on his way home, the Village of Glenbrook couple also learned that their son was leaving Iraq with a prestigious medal.
Bill said, ‘I’m on my way’ … and Maj. Gen. Mark Perrin came down to see him off and presented him with a Bronze Star, which is an unusual accomplishment for somebody in the intelligence corps.
When he was growing up, Lee and Jan said their son was the kind of child who never really got into trouble and who always strove to be the best. In fact, during his military career, Bill was given the nickname Bulldog because, as Jan puts it, “he grabs a hold of something and he never lets go.”
“He always excelled,” Jan said. “He’s always made us proud.”
Although his father retired from the Air Force when Bill was young, he spent the first few years of his life living the military lifestyle.
“The first place we took him was Thailand at 2 years old. He spoke Thai before he spoke English,” Jan said. “Then we took him to Okinawa and he learned Japanese.”
Growing up hearing his father’s military stories and a love for travel played a role in his decision to join the military, Bill said.
So 15 years ago Bill began his own military career, attending the Rochester Institute of Technology on a Reserve
Officers’ Training Corps scholarship.
After school, Bill went on active duty, serving three years in Germany before coming back to the states and earning a master’s degree at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
He then spent four years at Area 51 — a top-secret military base north of Las Vegas.
“It was very secretive,” Lee said with a laugh. “I have no idea what he did. He couldn’t tell me anything.”
Bill later was transferred to Alabama before being deployed to Iraq last June.
There, Bill said, he and his section planned the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for the planned troop draw-down in Iraq.
U.S. soldiers are scheduled to pull out of Iraq in December.
According to the narrative that accompanied Bill’s Bronze Star, Bill “skillfully directed the execution of 90,000 hours of ISR coverage for troops outside the wire, enabling combat, counter-insurgency, and advise and assist operations.”
Through Bill’s efforts, according to the narrative, “235 weapons caches were identified, 89 improvised explosive devices (IED) located and neutralized, 1,222 jackpots detained, and 7,974 routes vital to USF-I supply and training objectives cleared.”
Likewise, Bill played a key role in increasing the effectiveness of individual counter-IED platforms to help keep soldiers and military personnel safe.
For those efforts, he was awarded the Bronze Star, which is awarded to any military personnel who distinguish themselves “by heroic or meritorious achievement or service.”
Bill said he was surprised to receive the award and credited his success to his parents and his wife Susan, who stayed in the States raising his two sons and “holding down the fort.”
“I think I get a lot of it from (my parents),” he said. “They are both very successful … they were both determined individuals.”
Having served 28 years in the Air Force — eventually retiring as a colonel — Lee understands the military lifestyle and career his son has carved for himself.
Even if, he admits with a laugh, he doesn’t get much information out of Bill, considering he’s an intelligence officer unable to divulge much of his work.
But no matter what his job duties or where he’s stationed, Lee said he is always proud of his son’s service and his determination, no matter what the task, to do the best he can.
“I’m very, very proud that he’s taken this lifestyle to protect our country, and he’s very dedicated to what he does and obviously he does it well,” Lee said. “I’m very proud that we have a son that’s in the military and does the sacrifices to keep our country free. That’s what we do in the military.
“It’s a very proud time for my wife and I that he’s achieved this.”
April Toler is a reporter with the Daily Sun. She can be reached at 753-1119, ext. 9013, or firstname.lastname@example.org.