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48-hour battle results in AF Cross, Silver Star medals

U.S. Air Force Lt Gen Bradley A. Heithold, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, and U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Sean A. Pybus, deputy commander of Special Operations Command, applaud three U.S. Air Force Special Tactics combat controllers, who received an Air Force Cross and two Silver Stars today. They are credited with saving the lives of more than 80 U.S. Army Special Forces and Afghan Commando teammates by providing flawless air-to-ground integration in the special operations battlefield. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman First Class Ryan Conroy/Released)

Air Force Lt. Gen. Bradley A. Heithold, the commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, and Navy Vice Adm. Sean A. Pybus, the deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, applaud three Air Force special tactics combat controllers, who received an Air Force Cross and two Silver Stars May 7, 2015, at Pope Army Airfield, N.C. They are credited with saving the lives of more than 80 Army special forces and Afghan commando teammates by providing flawless air-to-ground integration in the special operations battlefield. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy)

Three U.S. Air Force Special Tactics combat controllers received multiple decorations of high valor today for a single event, only the second battle in U.S. Air Force history resulting in an Air Force Cross and multiple Silver Stars since 9/11. Senior Airman Dustin Temple received the Air Force Cross, a medal second only to the Medal of Honor, and Tech. Sgt. Matthew Greiner and Senior Airman Goodie Goodman received the Silver Star. All provided crucial air-to-ground integration during a 48-hour firefight with nearly 100 insurgents.The Special Tactics community has received seven Air Force Crosses and 34 Silver Stars since 9/11.

Three U.S. Air Force special tactics combat controllers received multiple decorations of high valor May 7, 2015, at Pope Army Airfield, N.C. This is only the second battle, which the Air Force has been involved in, within the last 15 years that resulted in an Air Force Cross and multiple Silver Star medals. Senior Airman Dustin Temple received the Air Force Cross, a medal second only to the Medal of Honor, and Tech. Sgt. Matthew Greiner and Senior Airman Goodie Goodman received the Silver Star. All provided crucial air-to-ground integration during a 48-hour firefight in Afghanistan with nearly 100 insurgents. The special tactics community has received seven Air Force Crosses and 34 Silver Stars since 9/11. (U.S. Air Force photo)

U.S. Army Capt. Evan Lacenski, Special Forces team leader for the three combat controllers, laughs with Senior Airman Goodie Goodman, Special Tactics combat controller and Silver Star recipient. Capt. Lacenski credits the combat controllers' control of close air support with saving lives of their joint teammates in a 48-hour battle. Three U.S. Air Force Special Tactics combat controllers received multiple decorations of high valor today for a single event, only the second battle in U.S. Air Force history resulting in an Air Force Cross and multiple Silver Stars since 9/11. Senior Airman Dustin Temple received the Air Force Cross, a medal second only to the Medal of Honor, and Tech. Sgt. Matthew Greiner and Senior Airman Goodie Goodman received the Silver Star. All provided crucial air-to-ground integration during a 48-hour firefight with nearly 100 insurgents. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman First Class Ryan Conroy/Released)

Army Capt. Evan Lacenski, the special forces team leader for the three combat controllers, laughs with Senior Airman Goodie Goodman, a special tactics combat controller and Silver Star recipient, May 7, 2015, at Pope Army Airfield, N.C. Lacenski credited the combat controllers' control of close air support with saving lives of their joint teammates in a 48-hour battle during a deployment to Afghanistan in September 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy)

U.S. Air Force Lt Gen Bradley A. Heithold, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, and U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Sean A. Pybus, deputy commander of Special Operations Command, stand beside three U.S. Air Force Special Tactics combat controllers, who received an Air Force Cross and two Silver Stars. They are credited with saving the lives of more than 80 U.S. Army Special Forces and Afghan Commando teammates by providing flawless air-to-ground integration in the special operations battlefield. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman First Class Ryan Conroy/Released)

Air Force Lt. Gen. Bradley A. Heithold, the commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, and Navy Vice Adm. Sean A. Pybus, the deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, stand beside three Air Force special tactics combat controllers, who received an Air Force Cross and two Silver Stars May 7, 2015, at Pope Army Airfield, N.C. They are credited with saving the lives of more than 80 Army special forces and Afghan commando teammates by providing flawless air-to-ground integration in the special operations battlefield. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy)

POPE ARMY AIRFIELD, N.C. (AFNS) -- Three special tactics combat controllers were awarded the Air Force Cross and two Silver Star medals here May 6, for extraordinary heroism and gallantry in the face of danger while on a deployment to Afghanistan in September 2014.

The Airmen, all from the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, were recognized for their superior integration of air and ground power against armed enemies of the U.S.

Lt. Gen. Bradley A. Heithold, the commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, presented Senior Airman Dustin T. Temple the seventh Air Force Cross since 9/11.

He also presented Tech. Sgt. Matthew J. Greiner and Senior Airman Goodie J. Goodman the Silver Star medal -- the 31st and 32nd Silver Star medals for the special tactics community since 9/11.

"You are the guardians who run toward the sound of the guns and not away from them," Heithold said. "Your bravery, your intensity and your pure guts ... you epitomize what being an air commando is all about.

"Not everyone deserves to be called a hero ... you do," Heithold said.

This is only the second battle, which the Air Force has been involved in, within the last 15 years that resulted in an Air Force Cross and multiple Silver Star medals.

The three combat controllers were embedded with a U.S. special forces team in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, when their team infiltrated a well-known enemy staging point by helicopter on Sept. 27, 2014.

Their mission was to disrupt insurgent operations, including drug and weapons cache, and enemy command and control. Their unit came under heavy machine gun, rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire from approximately 100 insurgents who would not back down.

The combat controllers acted on instinct and training and immediately assessed the situation before jumping to action.

“It was unlike anything I could have ever imagined … unlike anything you can prepare yourself for,” Temple said. “It all came back to training for me at that point. I remember thinking back to those days in training that were really tough, and now I realize they were preparing me for something like this.”

A teammate, Army Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Weathers, was gravely wounded by a sniper, and Temple put himself in the direct line of fire to drag his wounded teammate from a rooftop. At this same time, Goodman was under a barrage of machine gun fire, with bullets missing his head by inches, according to the award citation. Still, Goodman secured his rooftop position in order to repel the insurgent force with close air support and his personal weapon.

With friendly forces taking fire from within 200 meters, Greiner and Goodman began coordinating multiple close air support strikes from AH-64 Apache on the closest threats, while simultaneously coordinating mortar fire on enemy forces 300 meters away.

With a medical evacuation helicopter inbound, Temple once again risked his own life, carrying his wounded teammate across 100 meters of open terrain to a landing zone.

As overwhelming and accurate enemy machine gun fire suppressed Temple and his team, he remained on the open landing zone providing cover fire while his teammates pulled back.

After he returned to the compound, enemy fighters surged within 40 meters after intercepted communications stated, “Take the Americans alive.” Temple immediately directed F-16 Fighting Falcon strafing runs to repel the assault.

As the supplies dwindled during the 48-hour firefight, Temple braved open terrain several times to retrieve critical ammunition from a resupply helicopter. At the same time, Greiner coordinated precision airstrikes to cover Temple and the other special forces team members.

"These Airmen are much of the reason I am standing here today," said Army Capt. Evan Lacenski, the special forces team leader for the combat controllers while deployed. "They were faced with one of the most significant battles of Operation Enduring Freedom, in my opinion, and they acted professionally, valorously, flawlessly and executed the mission. I couldn't ask for a better group of Airmen."

The men are credited with saving the lives of 21 U.S. Special Operations Command forces and approximately 60 Afghanistan commandos.

"These special tactics Airmen turned the tide of the battle with heroism and extraordinary competence. I'm privileged to be on this stage with them this morning," said Navy Vice Adm. Sean A. Pybus, the deputy commander of SOCOM. "These are the best of us."

The event drew more than 450 attendees, including the Airmen's families, friends and colleagues. Pybus and Heithold both took time to thank the families for their support.

"I want to thank their families for allowing them to serve at AFSOC, and supporting their service ... You have our gratitude and our enduring thanks," Pybus said.

The Airmen’s integration of airpower during the battle tallied a total of 80 airstrikes, eliminating a confirmed 38 insurgents, destroying 28 vehicles, 17 buildings and 32 enemy fighting positions.

“Every combat controller I know has the ability and training to do what it takes,” Temple said. “I know that any of those guys would have my back in a situation like this. That’s just the level of expertise and competence in our community.”

The three combat controllers were all awarded the Bronze Star medal for the same tour. Greiner's Bronze Star was with Valor. Additionally, other Airmen of the 21st STS received 19 Bronze Star medals, nine Air Force Combat Action Medals, and more than 40 other medals for their actions for the same deployment, adding to the legacy of the 21st STS, the most highly decorated unit in the Air Force since Vietnam.

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