The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 

Bedford Hills Army captain honored with Bronze Star

By JOHN ROCHE
PHOTO COURTESY OF SHAWN TABANKIN

Shawn Tabankin, then a lieutenant, displays a poster of Saddam Hussein found during a raid that netted insurgent prisoners, visible in the background.

 

Perhaps what Army Captain Shawn Tabankin is doing now is just as telling as what he did last week in terms of capturing a soldier’s life.

Last Friday, Capt. Tabankin, a resident of Bedford Hills, received the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq, seven years after playing a key role in taking control of the insurgent stronghold of Samarra at the height of the war in Iraq.

This week, the 37-year-old husband and father of two is gearing up for a yearlong deployment to Kuwait, shipping out later this month for a security mission.

“You do your job,” Capt. Tabankin said. “That’s what we did while serving in Iraq, and throughout all my time in the Army, and that’s what we’re getting ready to do now over the course of the coming year in Kuwait. There are challenges and difficulties, sure, but you have a job to do.”

When the Bronze Star Medal, the fourth highest combat award in the U.S. armed forces, was pinned on Capt. Tabankin’s chest on Jan. 6, Congresswoman Nan Hayworth and others touched on some of the details of that “job” at the ceremony at Camp Smith in Cortlandt. Ms. Hayworth and her staff helped cut through the bureaucratic hurdles that had delayed the medals for Capt. Tabankin and his platoon sergeant, Arnold Stone, who that day also received the award for bravery and meritorious service.

In 2004, the job of Capt. Tabankin, then a 30-year-old lieutenant in the National Guard serving with the 108th Infantry Regiment, was to lead his platoon on door-to-door searches, targeted raids and other combat patrols — 300 in all that year — in and around the city of Samarra, part of the Sunni Triangle.

“Our mission during what was called Operation Baton Rouge was to root out insurgents, as well as to locate IEDs and other explosive devices,” said Capt. Tabankin. “A lot of the IEDs went off on us, but many were detonated before they could go off and cause harm to civilians or troops. I’m very proud of the work done by our platoon in Samarra, which played a very important role in the overall mission along with operations in Fallujah and perhaps some other more widely known battles.”

Capt. Tabankin was briefly hospitalized in October 2004 when an enemy IED, or improvised explosive device, went off under his patrol vehicle. “It could have been a whole lot worse,” the captain said. “Our vehicle was lifted about four feet up in the air and came slamming down, then accelerated on its own. But the vehicle did its job. It was completely destroyed, but no shrapnel penetrated the crew chamber.”

Within six hours of the incident that caused him a back injury and eventually earned him a Purple Heart, Capt. Tabankin was back out on patrol with the 43 members of his platoon.  

Lt. Col. Joseph Biehler, commander of the 108th Infantry and a former operations officer of the unit during Operation Iraqi Freedom, praised the leadership and bravery of Capt. Tabankin and Command Sgt. Maj. Stone. “They don’t give out the Bronze Star, you earn it,” Lt. Col. Biehler said at the ceremony. “It’s been a long time coming, but it’s here.”

Although the recommendations for both Capt. Tabankin and Sgt. Stone were made almost immediately after their missions in 2004, the recommendations were never processed before the two soldiers returned home and demobilized. That initial delay triggered a long, sometimes changing administrative process to see their awards approved.

“It wasn’t like the medals were sitting on someone’s desk and we never got them,” Capt. Tabankin explained. “At one point, the process and regulations changed and required congressional intervention and an investigation to support the recommendations.”

The two soldiers reached out to Congressman John Hall, who said he would get involved, but Ms. Hayworth defeated the two-term congressman in the fall of 2010. Soon after taking office, Ms. Hayworth and her staff took the lead on the appeals process, which required four resubmissions due to administrative issues, but ultimately proved successful, the captain said this week.

“We owe Congresswoman Hayworth and her staff a debt of gratitude,” Capt. Tabankin said. “Their help in this tedious process was instrumental.”

Adding to the delay in actually getting the Bronze Stars was the fact that Capt. Tabankin and Sgt. Stone requested that the other members of their platoon receive the combat citations they earned first. Nineteen members of the platoon earned combat infantry badges, three earned Army commendation medals and one soldier earned a Purple Heart that were also delayed.   

“If you look at the actual recommendations for the Bronze Star Medals, it’s really the accomplishments of our platoon that are being recognized,” Capt. Tabankin said. “As leaders, you get credit when something good happens, and the blame when something bad happens. Sgt. Stone and I wanted to be sure that the members of our platoon got their recognition first.”

Ms. Hayworth, whose parents are both veterans, said it was an honor for her to help recognize the two Bronze Star recipients. “When you think of the hundreds of lives you touched, the hundreds of lives you have saved, it is humbling indeed to be in your presence, and I cannot thank you enough,” she said. 

Assemblyman Robert Castelli, a Vietnam combat veteran whose son is currently serving in the armed forces, presented the two soldiers with citations at the ceremony last week.

“It is my honor to honor you,” Mr. Castelli told Capt. Tabankin and Sgt. Stone. “For me, as a Vietnam veteran, it is a very touching thing to be here and honor fellow veterans.”

Capt. Tabankin, an attorney, said it will be more difficult to deploy to Kuwait in three weeks than it was being away from home during his time in Iraq. This time, he’s leaving behind his wife, Jennifer, and their two young children, a 20-month-old daughter, Addyson, and a 6-month-old son, Ephren.

“The last time I was deployed, I was single,” said Capt. Tabankin, who moved to Bedford Hills with his wife three years ago. “This time, I have a whole new appreciation for military spouses and families and what they go through. It’ll be tough, mostly on my wife, who will be caring for our son and daughter on her own. But we’ll get through.”




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January 13, 2012