News: Korengal Valley: STO receives Bronze Star with Valor
Story by Staff Sgt. Erica Rowe
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. - "I was only attached to these guys for just one mission but it was the most important mission of my life," said Maj. F. Damon Friedman, an Air Force Special Operations Command special tactics officer who was briefly assigned to an Army task force while serving in Afghanistan.
For his actions, Friedman was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor during a ceremony Nov. 13, at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
It was April 2010 and the Korengal Valley, a 2-kilometer "kill-box" located in northeast Afghanistan, had already claimed the lives of more than 40 American service members since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom. The compact valley with extremely high terrain was difficult to maneuver, earning the name "Valley of Death," and it needed to be cleared of enemy forces immediately.
"It was a very high profile mission. There were several Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha teams assigned to one battalion and also an Army task force," said Friedman, then a captain on his third deployment in Afghanistan since becoming a STO. "Our unit was responsible for going in and conducting disruption operations so the current Army unit would be able to start taking out enemy forces in the middle of the night and ultimately close that place down."
Because of his expertise, Friedman was appointed as the lead joint terminal attack controller with a team of three combat controllers. He was also tasked as the "fire's guy," the subject matter expert for all close air support and call for fires during that mission.
"When we came in, there were about 100 enemy forces in the area. I was up for three days without a second of sleep conducting close air support with numerous aircraft overhead," said Friedman.
This was nothing new for Friedman; using his elevated location to his advantage, he provided fire support and cover for the men moving through the valley.
"I had the greatest situational awareness," he said. "I was able to receive the aircraft and push them out, or conduct close air support and call for fire because my position was much safer and I could see the entire valley."
According to the medal citation, for seven days, often under direct and indirect hostile fire, Friedman maneuvered to exposed positions to improve the coordination and deconfliction of more than 200 attack aircraft.
He also controlled and directed the delivery of 4,000 pounds of bombs, AC-130 rounds, and repeated rocket and strafe attacks. On two accounts, he controlled bombs and rockets within 100 meters of pinned-down friendly forces, thereby saving the lives of his teammates.
"I wanted to be as accurate as possible," he said. "I wanted to make the right calls and I didn't want to be overzealous, especially when it came to danger close. You want everyone to be safe on your side. You want everyone to come home and everyone did come home."
No friendly forces were killed and Friedman was credited with 40 enemies killed and wounded.
"The "V" is something very special," said Brig. Gen. Albert "Buck" Elton, AFSOC director of plans, programs, requirements and assessments, referring to the valor device on the Bronze Star. "It's difficult to earn and they protect that device. To have three Bronze Stars is a big deal, especially one with valor."
Friedman credits his team for this achievement.
"Honestly, when I look at this medal with the "V" device, it's for the guys; it was a team effort," said Friedman. "These men they go out and do extraordinary things; the operators and the controllers, they're amazing and this is as much of theirs as it is mine. I'm just honored to be a part of it."
The BSM is the fourth highest individual military award. It may be awarded for acts of heroism, acts of merit, or meritorious service in a combat zone. When awarded for acts of heroism, the medal is awarded with a Valor, or "V," device.
Editor's Note: A "kill box," a common term used by special operations forces, is a three-dimensional area used to facilitate the integration of joint fires.