News: AF's most combat-decorated unit since Vietnam War honors latest heroes
Story by Capt. Belena Marquez
JOINT BASE LEWIS MCCHORD, Wash. - The most combat-decorated Air Force unit since the end of the Vietnam War named more heroes Jan. 23-24 during medal presentation ceremonies at Portland Air National Guard Base, Portland, Ore., and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
The 24th Special Operations Wing gained one Silver Star, six Bronze Star medals with Valor, and seven Bronze Star medals when airmen from the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron were recognized with the nation’s third and fourth highest combat decorations.
"Like many, the airmen's willingness to serve at the tip of the spear, directly going into harm's way to attack the enemy time after time, represents the best of America,” said Col. Robert Armfield, commander of the 24th SOW. “We are proud to see their sacrifice recognized. It gives us a chance to pause for just a moment to thank these special operators and, more importantly, to recognize their families, who bear the burden of this relentless mission."
During the ceremony, Staff Sgt. Adam Krueger was awarded the Silver Star, the third highest combat military decoration in the United States, for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States while engaged in military operations.
While on a foot patrol, his team was ambushed by an entrenched enemy less than 10 meters from the friendly position. The Army Special Forces team was immediately pinned down and then Senior Airman Krueger directed an F-15 strafing run within meters of his position to allow the friendly patrol to fight their way into a compound and establish a strong point.
“He took care of us on that day,” said one of Krueger’s Special Forces teammates, who attended the ceremony.
During the subsequent 12-hour firefight, two soldiers were hit with enemy rounds. Kruger exposed himself to enemy fire in order to direct another air attack to allow the wounded members to be moved to safety. He then exposed himself again to mark the landing zone for the medical evacuation helicopter, enabling the life-saving patient evacuation. Additionally, Airman Krueger directed nine danger-close airstrikes.
Krueger’s receipt of the medal marks the 32nd Silver Star earned by Air Force Special Operations Command Special Tactics airmen since 9/11.
“It takes an uncommon bravery to put oneself in direct danger,” said Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, AFSOC commander. “If I were to ask any one of these men what they think about these decorations, I’m sure that they would all humbly respond that they were just doing their job.”
Fiel told the audience what doing their job and more means for a deployed combat controller as he described actions that resulted in the sixth Silver Star awarded to the 22nd STS.
“Repeatedly exposing oneself to enemy fire after being pinned down by a coordinated, lethal ambush, coordinating for nine danger-close air strikes which allowed your teammates to seek cover and recover wounded personnel, and providing suppressive fire while simultaneously marking a landing zone to enable a life-saving patient evacuation, without regard to one’s own safety, as Staff Sgt. Adam Krueger did, is more than just doing your job,” he said.
Fiel also recognized the courageous actions of the Bronze Star and Bronze Star with Valor recipients.
The Bronze Star is the fourth highest combat honor in the United States and is awarded for acts of bravery and meritorious service against an armed enemy of the United States. When the Bronze Star is awarded for heroism, it is annotated by a bronze “V” device, which designates valor.
Many of the honorees were awarded their third or fourth Bronze Star. As a result, they received oak leaf clusters, which are worn on the medal or ribbon to indicate subsequent awards.
According to the medal citations, the recipients contributed to coordinated air attacks, ground combat support, casualty medical evacuation capabilities, and lives saved, all while engaged in combat operations.
“Though each of these men are being recognized for their courage, these decorations were earned in years [of preparation] -- through long physical, mental and technical training pipelines. Across experiences from previous deployments and through the lessons passed on by the men who bore the standard before them,” Fiel said.
In order to earn the right to wear the scarlet beret, the mark of combat controllers, candidates must complete 35 weeks of initial training. Additional training for the career field includes pipeline courses which result in mastery of parachuting skills, combat diving, survival techniques, special tactics skills and qualifications in air traffic control.
Lt. Col. Thad Allen, 22 STS commander, who has known the Silver Star recipient since 2008, said Krueger, like many other Combat Controllers across AFSOC, trained for years honing his skills to deal with the complexities of combat.
“Often, it’s Senior airmen, like Adam, making life or death decisions under fire, with potential strategic impact. That in and of itself is impressive,” he said.
During the ceremony speech, Fiel also addressed the family members in attendance.
“Between a demanding pace of today’s global special operations and your community’s commitment to quiet professionalism we do not come together often enough to recognize the tremendous dedication of our special tactics,” Fiel said. “But it is truly a pleasure for me to reflect on their accomplishments, particularly in the presence of family members and of course, the squadron teammates.”
He also emphasized the significance of family support to the AFSOC mission and offered them a special message.
“I thank you personally for everything you do, every day for the nation,” Fiel said. “It does not go unnoticed. Our military families make extraordinary, unique sacrifices to support our mission and we sincerely appreciate your contributions to our nation’s security.”
Before the group heard the citations, Fiel prepared to award the medals to the 13 recipients with one final statement.
“The stories…are inspiring and call each of us to rededicate ourselves, preparing for our own moment of opportunity, when a critical mission and the lives of our teammates will demand that we realize our full potential.”
The honorees were:
Silver Star and Bronze Star recipient:
Staff Sgt. Adam Krueger
Bronze Star with Valor recipients:
Master Sgt. Douglas Neville
Tech. Sgt. Michael Orlando
Staff Sgt. Joshua Busch
Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Roberts
Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Salazar
Staff Sgt. Michael Wilhelm
Bronze Star recipients:
Captain Joshua Barlow
Tech. Sgt. Michael A. Kurta
Tech. Sgt. Matthew McKenna
Senior Airman Benjamin De Boer
Senior Airman Christopher Kagan
Senior Airman John Moyle
Editor’s note: Airmen at the 125th Special Tactics Squadron received two Bronze Stars with Valor, four Bronze Stars, and a Purple Heart during a ceremony, Jan. 23, at Portland Air National Guard Base, Portland, Ore.