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Silver Star awarded to Special Tactics Airman

Tech. Sgt. Matthew McKenna salutes Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold Aug. 18, 2014, after being awarded the Silver Star during the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron awards ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. McKenna was the fourth 22nd STS member to earn the medal for operations conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan McKenna is a 22nd STS combat controller and Heithold is the the Air Force Special Operations Command commander. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Russ Jackson)

Tech. Sgt. Matthew McKenna salutes Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold Aug. 18, 2014, after being awarded the Silver Star during the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron awards ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. McKenna was the fourth 22nd STS member to earn the medal for operations conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan McKenna is a 22nd STS combat controller and Heithold is the the Air Force Special Operations Command commander. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Russ Jackson)

Members from the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron salute the presentation of the colors Aug. 18, 2014, during the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron awards ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Airmen from the squadron and their families were accompanied by base and local community leaders to support their teammates being honored. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Russ Jackson)

Members from the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron salute the presentation of the colors Aug. 18, 2014, during the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron awards ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Airmen from the squadron and their families were accompanied by base and local community leaders to support their teammates being honored. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Russ Jackson)

Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold (left) applauds six Airmen from the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron Aug. 18, 2014, after awarding them with medals for valor during the 22nd STS awards ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Heithold pinned eight medals on to the Airmen which included a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with Valor and four Bronze Stars. Heithold is the  the Air Force Special Operations Command commander. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Russ Jackson)

Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold (left) applauds six Airmen from the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron Aug. 18, 2014, after awarding them with medals for valor during the 22nd STS awards ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Heithold pinned eight medals on to the Airmen which included a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with Valor and four Bronze Stars. Heithold is the the Air Force Special Operations Command commander. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Russ Jackson)

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (AFNS) -- Four combat controllers and two tactical air control party members from the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron were presented eight medals during an awards ceremony here Aug. 18.

Combat controllers and TACP members are trained special operators who deploy undetected into combat and hostile environments to establish assault zones or airfields, and provide air traffic control and close air support.

"Today we're going to recognize six of our Special Tactics Airmen,” said Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, the Air Force Special Operations Command commander. “We've got one Silver Star, a Bronze Star with Valor, four Bronze Stars and two Combat Action medals. In all these cases we're going to award today, they were being shot at. They were outside the wire and being shot at as they engaged the enemy. That's what we're awarding today."

Tech. Sgt. Matthew McKenna, a 22nd STS combat controller, was awarded the Silver Star, the nation's third highest combat military decoration, for distinguishing himself by gallantry during a 13 hour firefight with enemy forces in Afghanistan.

McKenna was the fourth 22nd STS member to earn the medal for operations conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan and is the 31st Special Tactics Airman to receive the medal since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

During the battle in Afghanistan, McKenna and his team found themselves in a vulnerable valley position, outnumbered by a fierce enemy closing in on their position from higher ground.

McKenna controlled air and ground sensors in order to carry out air strikes on 10 insurgents preventing a cataclysmic ambush.

At one point, he discovered his team was running out of ammunition and coordinated an aerial resupply at two locations placing desperately needed munitions within 50 feet of the endangered service members.

As the enemy closed in on their position, McKenna ignored his teammate's urgencies to find cover as he rushed into the kill zone, exposing himself to heavy fire in order to control danger-close air strikes.

A danger-close air strike is an attack from airborne assets that are targeting an area within 600 meters of a friendly force.

The strikes were perfectly placed, saving the lives of friendly forces pinned down by the enemy fire and allowing the team, almost completely out of ammunition, the time and space to move up the mountain to an emergency exfiltration point.

His actions secured the survival of his team against a challenging enemy, allowing them to beat back three counter-attacks contributing to 103 enemies killed in action before withdrawing to safety.

"These are very humble individuals and don't like to be in the lime light," Heithold said. "They don't want to be highlighted up here for what they've done because frankly, many of (their teammates) in the audience have done these same things."

McKenna was also awarded the Bronze Star for his actions during that same deployment. In that time, he controlled 431 aircraft during 23 ground combat operations, which led to the capture of 26 enemy insurgents and 67 enemy fighters killed in action.

During numerous operations, he safeguarded his teammates by exposing himself to direct fire in order to coordinate aircraft to neutralize enemy fire allowing his team to complete their mission.

Five other Airmen were also recognized for their valiant actions in combat.

Staff Sgt. James Sparks, a 22nd STS combat controller, was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor for his actions during a 2012 deployment to Afghanistan. Attached to an Army special forces team, he was able to integrate airpower into 26 combat missions where he controlled 142 different aircraft maintaining fire superiority. His actions resulted in the neutralization of five key leaders, 14 enemy killed in action and three captured.

Tech. Sgt. Bridger Morris, a 22nd STS combat controller, was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions during a deployment to Afghanistan from 2013 to 2014. Within this time, Morris disrupted insurgent networks by directing 207 aircraft employing air to ground attacks on the enemy which resulted in 23 enemies killed in action and eight captured.

Tech. Sgt. Tyler Britton, a 22nd STS tactical air control party member, was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions during a deployment to Afghanistan from 2013 to 2014. In addition to his joint attack controller duties, he was involved in a three day operation where he engaged the enemy with accurate fire in order to extract wounded teammates out of harm's way.

Tech. Sgt. Joseph Luera, a 22nd STS tactical air control party member, was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Force Combat Action medal for his actions during a deployment to Afghanistan from 2013 to 2014. During one operation, Luera exposed himself to gunfire in order to adjust aircraft fire to maximize the effectiveness of each airborne attack he called, which resulted in the death of six enemy Taliban members including a key Taliban commander.

Staff Sgt. Douglas Perry, a 22nd STS combat controller, was awarded the Air Force Combat Action medal for his active participation in combat in connection with a military operation on Aug. 26, 2013, while serving with Operation Enduring Freedom.

"I would argue that the 22nd STS and the 24th Special Operations Wing is by far the most decorated unit in the United States Air Force," Heithold said. "I'm not bragging or here to trumpet our successes. But I will tell you one thing. I'm awfully proud to be the commander of AFSOC and to be the commander of these men and women out there getting it done."

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