Fort Bragg Airmen Honored for Valor - 161 Medals

Posted April 11, 2014

— The members of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Army Airfield execute dangerous missions very close to enemy lines.

On Friday, about 50 of the airmen received 161 medals for their actions while deployed in Afghanistan.

Among them were Staff Sgt. Jordan Killam, who was awarded a Bronze Star. Sr. Airman Devon Butcher received one, too. He rushed to help fellow airmen wounded after their vehicle hit a bomb.

Pictured Left, Jordan Killam; Staff Sgt. Jordan Killam earned a Bronze Star for his bravery in Afghanistan.

"Basically, our convoy hit a 250-pound improvised explosive device buried in the ground,” Butcher said. “We had some individuals who were pretty messed up from that.”

His commander said Butcher moved to pull enemy fire towards him, which saved lives. Butcher’s family members came from Montana to attend the awards ceremony at Fort Bragg.

“I think it was heroism,” his father, Perry Butcher, said. “He put himself out there to save others.”

None of the airmen receiving medals Friday considers himself a hero.

“What I would say about those guys is the valor they show on the battlefield – the uncommon valor – is common,” Lt. Commander Jason Self said. “That’s what I think is unique about special tactics. They continue day in and day out, every single one of them, to do heroic, courageous acts.”

Special Tactics Airmen Awarded
Top Combat Decorations
by Rachel Caldwell
Special to the 24th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
1/13/2014 - POPE FIELD, N.C.  -- Already the U.S. Air Force's most decorated community since the end of the Vietnam War, Air Force Special Tactics added to its total over the weekend.
Three Air Force Special Operations Command Airmen received Silver Star and Purple Heart medals in a ceremony at Pope Field, N.C., Jan. 10.

Above;  Master Sgt. Delorean Sheridan smiles at his daughter Kinsley, while Staff Sgt. Christopher Baradat and Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Whiddon look on during a 21st Special Tactics Squadron awards ceremony, presided by Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, Air Force Special Operations Command commander, who awarded Silver Star medals to Sheridan and Baradat and a Purple Heart medal to Whiddon, Jan. 10, 2014, at Pope Army Airfield, Fort Bragg, N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo by Marvin Krause)

Combat Controllers Master Sgt. Delorean Sheridan and Staff Sgt. Christopher Baradat received the Silver Star, the U.S. military's third-highest decoration for gallantry in combat, for their efforts in Afghanistan last year.

Technical Sgt. Jeremy Whiddon, a special tactics tactical air control party member, received the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in combat also in Afghanistan. Sheridan, Baradat and Whiddon are assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Field, N.C.
"Getting the Silver Star is a humbling experience, but I was just doing my job," Baradat said. "Everyone did what they had to do that day to make the mission successful."
Fiel presented the Pope Field decorations in front of an auditorium full of the honorees' family and friends, fellow Special Tactics Airmen, members from Army Special Forces members, and representatives for North Carolina's congressional members.

"Your strength and tenacity epitomizes what being a warrior and a Special Tactics Airman is all about," said Fiel.

All three Airmen attributed their ability to act decisively in critical moments on the battlefield to the extensive physical and physiological training they undergo. Training enabled Sheridan to act largely from muscle memory, he said.
"The training kicks in and there is a reason why it is as rigorous as it is because, at these times, you have to be able to step up and react," he said.
In March 2013, Sheridan was preparing for a mission with his Army Special Forces team when an Afghan National Police Officer working with the team opened fire from a machine gun at 25 feet. The teammates to Sheridan's immediate left and right were hit.
Puffs of smoke blew up around him. When he realized what was happening, his first instinct was to grab his team leader and get him out, he said.
As he turned to react, Sheridan saw his team leader shot in the head at close range.
At the same time, a group of about 20 insurgents fired on the team from a position outside of the base in what was a coordinated attack.
To Sheridan the insider attack was like "having someone sneak into your house in the middle of the night." It provoked an instantaneous reaction.
He ran toward the shooter, jumped into the turret of an armored vehicle and shot him twice with his pistol and nine times with an M4 rifle.
One by one, he dragged his team leader, team sergeant and the infantry squad noncommissioned officer in charge to an area where they could be extracted by medevac.
Sheridan, 33, called in six medevac flights and helped transfer his wounded teammates to litters while controlling aircraft overhead.
He helped save the lives of 23 critically wounded personnel on what was his sixth deployment.
Baradat, of San Rafael, Calif., was working as part of an Army Special Forces team in April 2013 when tasked to retrieve a group of pinned-down coalition forces.
His job was to control the air assets supporting the team on the mission. When they came under fire, Baradat directed the 30mm guns of the A-10s overhead on the enemy prior to taking cover with his teammates.

When he realized he could not control the aircraft effectively from his covered position, he moved from safety to the center of the compound where he was sprayed with dirt from consistent machine gun fire.
Standing in the thick of the firefight did not phase Baradat, though his teammates were urging him to take cover.
"That was where I needed to be standing to communicate with the aircraft and to get the mission done," he said.

Baradat, 24, continued to direct the A-10 and AC-130 aircraft even as his team left the area with the coalition members by jumping on the running board of his vehicle, again exposing himself to fire.
As a result of his actions, 150 coalition members were saved and more than 50 enemies killed on what was his third deployment.
On receiving their decorations, both Sheridan and Baradat thanked the Army members of their deployed teams for attending the ceremony.
"We lost two-thirds of our team [on the mission] so about half of the guys who were there today were wounded in the firefight," Sheridan said.
Lt. Col. Jason Self, commander of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, said his Airmen contributed to the proud heritage of the squadron.
"The 21st Special Tactics Squadron has a legacy of valor and heroism," Self said. "Both Sheridan and Baradat contributed to this continued legacy of the unit in their phenomenal performance of protecting the lives of our servicemen."
Sheridan and Baradat's Silver Stars are the 27th and 28th for the Special Tactics community since the end of the Vietnam War. Conflicts that include Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, Operation Just Cause in Panama, the 1993 Battle of the Black Sea in Somalia - later made into a Hollywood motion picture titled "Black Hawk Down," and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. During that span, six members of the community have also been awarded the Air Force Cross, second highest decoration to only the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism in combat.
As the small ribbons that speak volumes were pinned to the chests of the three Airmen, Fiel referred to their acts of extraordinary heroism as an example to all.
"This calls us to look into ourselves and be prepared for our own moments of courage and bravery."
(Editor's Note: Two Special Tactics Airmen with the Kentucky Air National Guard were awarded the Bronze Star with Valor medals in a separate ceremony at Staniford Field, KY, Jan. 12. 123rd Special Tactics Squadron Kentucky guardsmen Tech. Sgt. Jeff Kinlaw and Tech. Sgt. Robert Bonello received the Bronze Star with Valor.)
Three Special Tactics airmen received special recognition Friday at Fort Bragg's Pope Field.
The citation explaining Baradat's actions explains that gunfire was hitting the ground around him close enough to spray him with dirt.

"Sergeant Baradat's selfless and heroic actions directly resulted in over 50 enemy fighters killed while saving the lives of over 150 friendly personnel," Williams read from the citation.

Above; Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, left, and Staff Sgt. Christopher Baradat stand at attention as Baradat's narrative is read during a medal ceremony on Pope Field. Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel will present the Silver Star, the nation's third highest decoration for heroism during combat, to Master Sgt. Delorean Sheridan and Staff Sgt. Christopher Baradat and the Purple Heart medal to Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Whiddon for their actions in Kunar and Wardak provinces, Afghanistan, March 11 to April 6, 2013.

Whiddon's Purple Heart came in recognition of the traumatic brain injury he suffered as a result of a 24-hour battle involving gunfire and explosions. That battled occurred in Afghanistan in May of 2013.

"I was hit pretty good by some large explosions," Whiddon said.

Nonetheless, he continued working to communicate with aircraft that were needed to help U.S. forces during the battle.
"It's good to be recognized. At the same time though it's not what you were looking for when you started," Whiddon said.

A ceremony recognized Master Sgt. Delorean Sheridan and Staff Sgt. Christopher Baradat, and Technical Sgt. Jeremy Whiddon. Delorean and Baradat were involved in separate gun fights in Afghanistan last spring that earned each of them a silver star. Whiddon received a Purple Heart medal as a result of a battle that also occurred last spring in Afghanistan.

The men are Combat Controllers assigned to the Air Force's 21st Special Tactics Squadron, which is based at Pope Field. Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel presented Sheridan and the other men their respective medals. First Lt. Ian H. Williams narrated the ceremony.

In March of last year Sheridan was in a group huddle with his team of U.S. and Afghan Special Forces when an Afghan National Police officer with a truck-mounted machine gun started firing at them. 15 to 20 other enemy fighters started firing also, and Sheridan immediately thought to grab his team leader he said.

"As I went to grab him I saw him get shot in the head, closer than I am to you," Sheridan told news reporters gathered a few feet in front of him after the ceremony.

At that point Sheridan ran toward the first gunman, shot and killed him and ran through gunfire three more times to pull injured comrades to safety.

"My teammates were out there and I had to get to them," Sheridan explained. "It doesn't matter. I have to get to my teammates and get them to a safe spot."

Sheridan also called in aircraft for medical evacuations and to attacks on the insurgents.

Just before Sheridan received his Silver Star, Williams read from the citation that explains Sheridan's actions.

"Sergeant Sheridan's complete disregard for his personal safety and extreme calm under pressure despite grave danger to himself and others directly resulted in saving the lives of 23 critically wounded personnel," Williams read.

The following month Baradat was with his Special Forces team as they went into a valley to help coalition forces escape an attack. While being shot at, for three hours he came out into the open to communicate with aircraft and guide them to attack the enemy forces. His own safety was afterthought he said.

"All I could think about was being able to do my job to help support the team and get them out of there," Baradat explained after the ceremony. "So I wasn't thinking about that at the time."
Elite Airmen's Heroics Honored with Silver Star medals, Purple Heart at Fort Bragg

They risked life and limb to protect their teams, guiding in helicopters to carry away the wounded and directing precision attacks from orbiting aircraft.

But for the three elite airmen honored Friday at Fort Bragg's Pope Field, it was all in a day's work.

In a small ceremony attended by members of Fort Bragg's Air Force and special operations communities, a three-star general presented medals to members of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, which is based at Pope Field.

Two airmen, Combat Controllers, received the Silver Star medal, the U.S. military's third-highest award for valor. They are Master Sgt. Delorean M. Sheridan and Staff Sgt. Christopher G. Baradat.

Above; Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, Air Force Special Operations Command commander, awards the Silver Star medal to Master Sgt. Delorean Sheridan, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, Jan. 10, 2014, at Pope Army Airfield, Fort Bragg, N.C., for heroically distinguishing himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United States in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, March 11, 2013

Both were honored for actions in Afghanistan, where they served alongside Green Berets from Fort Bragg's 3rd Special Forces Group.

A third airman, Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Whiddon, was presented the Purple Heart medal for injuries sustained during a third battle in Afghanistan.

All had deployed multiple times before last year.

Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field, Fla., said it was a "personal honor" to award the medals to the three airmen.
He praised the special tactics community and heralded the group as the most decorated Air Force unit since the Vietnam War.

Fiel presented the 27th and 28th Silver Star medals that have been earned by special tactics airmen during that span, he said.

"You were not just doing your job. You knew the dangers, and you didn't back down," Fiel said. "Your strength and tenacity epitomizes what being a warrior and a special tactics airman is all about."

Looking back on the battle for which Sheridan earned his medal, he compared it to a home invasion.

"It's a bit like having someone sneak into your house in the middle of the night," he said.

Sheridan was huddled together with Green Berets and Afghan forces on March 11, 2013, when the attack occurred.

The team was getting ready to go on patrol but had not yet left the relative safety of an Afghan police headquarters in Wardak province when an Afghan National Police officer attacked with a truck-mounted machine gun from 25 feet away.

Sheridan recalled seeing puffs of smoke before he heard the bullets.

He recalled looking over his right should and seeing the shooter, then turning to a teammate just in time to see him shot in the head.

"There wasn't time to think," Sheridan said. "It was reactionary. . It was 'save and stop.'"

As men fell to the left and right of Sheridan, 15 to 20 insurgents from outside the base began a simultaneous attack, opening fire with machine guns.

Sheridan, however, was focused on the gunman who was mowing down his team.

Sheridan moved toward his attacker, then leapt onto the back of an armored vehicle.

Sheridan shot and killed the attacker, then moved in and out of enemy fire to drag his teammates to safety.

"My teammates were out there," Sheridan said."I had to get them."

Over the next 30 minutes, with enemy fire still raining down, Sheridan coordinated both medical evacuations and close air support that engaged insurgents, leading to four more enemy deaths.

"Sgt. Sheridan's complete disregard for personal safety and extreme calm under pressure despite grave danger to himself and others directly resulted in saving the lives of 23 critically wounded personnel," according to the Silver Star citation. "By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Sgt. Sheridan has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force."

At Friday's ceremony, Sheridan said he was only doing his job.

"I was just a member of a team," he said, referring to the Green Berets who attended the ceremony. "They kept me alive every night, and I did my piece."

According to reports, two U.S. soldiers and two Afghan police officers were killed in the attack.

Sheridan said roughly two-thirds of the members of his team were wounded, including many who attended the ceremony.

He said the Green Berets are true warriors and that it was wonderful to have them present at the ceremony.

"It's the best thing in the world," Sheridan said.

Just a few weeks after Sheridan helped thwart the insider attack in Wardak province, he listened as a battle waged across Afghanistan in Kunar province.

Glued to his radio, Sheridan said he was scared, frightened, afraid and pumped as he followed the actions of Staff Sgt. Christopher G. Baradat.

Baradat was part of a quick reactionary force that included Green Berets and Afghan forces who were deployed to rescue coalition troops pinned down by enemy fire on April 6.

Moving on foot through the treacherous Sono Valley, a known sanctuary for Taliban and al-Qaida militants, Baradat and others were attacked as they closed in on the pinned-down allies.

"We knew there were enemy fighters in that valley," Baradat recalled. "But our focus was on the rescue."

As enemy fire struck around him, Baradat said he was focused on doing his job.

"I just reverted back to my training," he said.

According to officials, Baradat charged through a hail of enemy gunfire to direct attacks from an A-10 aircraft before taking cover in a small compound with a handful of teammates.

Then, despite his teammates telling him to take cover, Baradat exposed himself to enemy fire to allow for better communication between him and overhead aircraft.

"Ignoring repeated shouts from his teammate to take cover, over the next three hours Sgt. Baradat calmly directed lethal engagements from A-10 and AC-130 aircrafts onto 13 enemy fighting positions consisting of over 100 fighters, while ignoring enemy machine gun rounds impacting all around him, spraying him with dirt," according to the citation.

Once all friendly forces were able to leave the valley, Baradat again showed incredible bravery, according to the citation, as he continued to call in airstrikes from the running board of a vehicle while under enemy fire.

Baradat was responsible for the deaths of more than 50 enemy fighters and saved the lives of more than 150 friendly troops, officials said.

He credited his teammates for allowing him to do his job and said their presence at the ceremony meant a lot to him.

"They were just as extraordinary," he said, saying he considers the medal a "team award."

The third airman recognized Friday, Whiddon said he was not looking for a medal when he deployed for the eighth time of his career last year.

Whiddon was wounded May 29 during a 24-hour battle in Afghanistan, where he was repeatedly rattled by explosions as he coordinated air support during a battle with insurgents.

Battling through a traumatic brain injury, Whiddon said he was focused on not letting his team down.

"You do what you're asked to do," he said. "I wasn't finished yet.

"We do this for the team," Whiddon added. "You're fighting for the guys next to you."

Left; Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, Air Force Special Operations Command commander, awards the Purple Heart medal to Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Whiddon, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, Jan. 10, 2014, at Pope Army Airfield, Fort Bragg, N.C., for wounds received in action on May 29, 2013.

Special Tactics Airmen earn Silver Star,
Bronze Star, Purple Heart

Above; Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, Capt. Blake Luttrell, Silver Star recipient, Staff Sgt. Jordan Killam, Purple Heart recipient, Staff Sgt. Daniel Resendez, Bronze Star with Valor recipient, and Chief Master Sgt. William Turner, command chief of Air Force Special Operations Command, stop for a photo at closing of the award ceremony. The three airmen were recognized September 25, 2012 at Pope Field, N.C. for their accomplishments and bravery during combat operations in Afghanistan.

by Rachel Arroyo, Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs

9/28/2012 - Pope Field, N.C. -- When the critical moment came there was courage.

There was courage from an Airman who moved into the line of fire to retrieve bodies of fallen Afghan commandos.

One Airman risked sniper fire to call in air support and another Airman continued to fight despite shrapnel wounds from a hand grenade.

Three Air Force Special Operations Command Combat Controllers from the 21st Special Tactics Squadron were recognized for actions in deployed locations during a medals ceremony at Pope Field, N.C., Sept. 25.

Capt. Blake Luttrell earned the Silver Star. Staff Sgt. Daniel Resendez earned the Bronze Star with Valor, and Staff Sgt. Jordan Killam received the Purple Heart.

"These decorations were earned years in advance through long physical, mental and technical training pipelines; across experiences from previous deployments and from lessons passed on by the men who bore the standards before you," said Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, the AFSOC commander .

Lutrell was presented the Silver Star, the nation's third highest combat military decoration, for gallantry in action against an enemy of the U.S. in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan, January 2012.

When his clearing operation team came under intense fire from insurgents in a cave compound, two Afghan commandos were shot. Lutrell recovered the casualties while directing air power against the enemy.

After a medical evacuation, the team medic was critically wounded while protecting his teammates and women and children near the enemy stronghold.

Luttrell responded by throwing a smoke grenade into the caves the enemy was firing from. He moved in front of the cave to pull the medic to a location where another medevac helicopter landed to extract the medic from the fight.

Resendez received the Bronze Star with Valor, the nation's fourth highest combat military decoration, for heroism in action against an enemy of the U.S. in Nuristan province, Afghanistan, May 2011.

As the joint terminal attack controller for an Army special forces and Afghan commando team, Resendez controlled close air support to eliminate insurgents firing on the clearing operation.

Resendez controlled the release of a 500-pound bomb in response to heavy mortar, machine gun, sniper and small-arms fire.

Resendez exposed himself to sniper fire, which missed his head by two feet, to gain target information crucial to destroying an enemy position. He controlled danger-close strafe runs on the enemy and marked an extraction zone for coalition wounded and casualities.

Killam was presented the Purple Heart, the nation's oldest military authorization, for shrapnel wounds incurred from an enemy hand grenade.

Though these quiet professionals may shirk the limelight, there is value in recognizing these men up front, special tactics leaders said. Medals ceremonies not only recognize courageous actions but provide an example for the younger generation of secial tactics Airmen.

They also provide an opportunity for families to see what their son, father or nephew do on a routine basis.

"Our men signed up to do the mission," Col. Robert Armfield, the 24th Special Operations Wing commander. "They love to do the mission and go downrange. But the families here are their real source of strength, and we thank them for coming."

Lt. Col. Spencer Cocanour, the commander of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, said he is proud to lead a group of men who consistently exceed standards in training and downrange.

Combat Controllers complete a two-year pipeline as a minimum standard to enter their unit, Cocanour said. From that point, it takes about another year to earn the joint terminal attack control qualification which enables them to control close air support.

"In essence, these guys are training for three years just to go to the fight," Cocanour said. "Every day they have to prove themselves. These guys met the standards, exceeded the standards and continue to excel. And you see their work ethic being displayed right here when they're being decorated."

The single most decorated career field in the Air Force, special tactics has amassed five Air Force Crosses, 30 Silver Stars, 550 Bronze Stars and 97 Purple Hearts.

39 airmen from 21st Special Tactics Squadron
earn 50 medals
Staff writer Drew Brooks can be reached at brooksd@fayobserver.com, Wed Sep 19, 2012

It's not often most of the airmen of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron are in one place.

The Air Force special operators are deployed for nearly half the year every 10 months, attaching themselves to small groups of Green Berets, Navy SEALs and Marine Corps critical skills operators.

Even when not deployed, the airmen are often strewn across the country for training.

But the squadron took advantage of a rare lull Tuesday to honor some of their own at Pope Field.

Thirty-nine airmen were recognized with more than 50 medals.

Most of those medals were related to the squadron's most recent deployment from mid-November to May, where they served in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Among the awards were five Bronze Stars, including one for the squadron commander, Lt. Col. Spencer C. Cocanour.

Cocanour said the airmen included Combat Controllers, tactical air control party operators and various support airmen.
The airmen call in airstrikes, secure airfields and provide reconnaissance. Individuals are often assigned to small units of other special operations troops.

Cocanour praised the men and women for their hard work and dedication, whether they were calling in airstrikes on combat patrols or ensuring that a $30,000 radio found its way to a fellow airman across the country.

"They were at 50 sites across Afghanistan," Cocanour said. "And these were some of the last folks in Iraq."

"They went above and beyond the call of duty," he said.

In addition to the Bronze Stars, airmen also were recognized with Defense Meritorious Service Medals, Air Force Commendation Medals, Army Commendation Medals, Air Force Achievement Medals and Air Force Combat Action Medals.

The ceremony took place at the 21st Special Tactics Squadron headquarters.

Col. Kurt Buller, commander of the 720th Special Tactics Group, addressed the airmen during the ceremony.

Buller, former commander of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, praised the airmen for their readiness to fight and deploy often.

It was up to them, Buller said while waving a photograph of his two sons, Drew and Brock, to end the fight against the Taliban so their own children don't have to get involved.

"I don't want them to have to fight this fight," Buller said. ". I don't want Drew and Brock to have to fight the Taliban. I want to kick (the Taliban) in the teeth."

"Today is a celebration," he said. "Tomorrow, we get ready to go again."

Special Tactics Airmen receive 19 decorations
for Combat Operations

4/28/2010 - POPE AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- Nineteen medals were presented to nine Airmen assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, 17th Air Support Operations Squadron and 10th Combat Weather Squadron during a April 23 ceremony here.

Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, presented The Silver Star, four Bronze Stars Medals with Valor, four Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts and seven Air Force Combat Action Medals to special tactics Airmen for actions during their deployments.

Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, presents the Silver Star to Staff Sgt. Caleb Heidelberg, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, during a Silver Star Ceremony April 23 at the Combat Control School on Pope Air Force Base. General Wurster also presented four Bronze Star Medals with Valor, four Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts and seven Air Force Combat Action Medals to special tactics Airmen for actions during their deployments.
During their deployments, Airmen from the 21st STS, here, along with Airmen from the 720th Special Tactics Group, participated in more than 1,700 combat operations leading to the capture or elimination of more than 1,900 enemy insurgents.

The Silver Star, the nation's third highest decoration for valor, was presented to Staff Sgt. Caleb Heidelberg for his actions during a firefight against enemy forces in Afghanistan in summer 2008.

In support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Sergeant Heidelberg, along with members of the Army Special Forces and the Afghanistan National Security Forces team, conducted a mounted combat reconnaissance patrol. As members of the patrol dismounted to clear a vegetated area, they were ambushed within 10 meters by enemy insurgent forces employing heavy and effective small-arms and mortar fire, injuring all of the dismounted team.

Sergeant Heidelberg became cognizant of the grave danger faced by his teammates, and exposed himself to extensive enemy fire while repositioning his vehicle to provide cover for his wounded comrades. With continued disregard for his own safety, he then stationed himself forward of the vehicle and suppressed the enemy with his squad automatic weapon, allowing his vehicle's gunner to climb to the mounted turret, clear the jammed automatic grenade launcher and put fire on the enemy.

Sergeant Heidelberg realized members of his patrol were wounded, still exposed and in mortal danger. Without hesitation, he moved from the cover and protective fire of his position and ran toward them. Exposing himself again to heavy enemy fire, Sergeant Heidelberg carried a seriously wounded Afghan soldier back to the protection of the vehicle.

As the fight continued, he directed a complex air-ground battle to destroy the enemy with AH-64 strafing attacks
and bombs dropped from B-1 and F-15 aircraft. Additionally, he simultaneously directed four helicopter sorties to both evacuate the wounded and replenish a critically low supply of ammunition.

"Caleb's actions were extraordinary and heroic, and absolutely deserving of the Silver Star," said Lt. Col. James Hughes, 21st Special Tactics Squadron commander. "Yet his conduct was not entirely uncharacteristic for a Combat Controller and Special Tactics operator. As you hear about the details of their achievements, there are common characteristics that begin to emerge."

"Today, we are also recognizing three Purple Heart recipients in conjunction with their combat decorations," said Colonel Hughes. "It is not the severity of the injuries that is notable, it's the speed and determination of their recovery. To a man, they were planning and preparing for their return to combat even before their first round of surgeries was complete. They are an inspiration to us all and each will stand before you today, well on his way to a full recovery."

Following Sergeant Heidelberg's Silver Star presentation, 18 other medals were presented.

The other recipients are:

Staff Sgt. Joseph Byrne, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor, Purple Heart and Air Force Combat Action Medal.

Sergeant Byrne earned the medals during his deployment in Afghanistan spring of 2009 where during a period of about one month, his actions led to over 100 enemies killed, two wounded and 11 insurgents captured. During a battle where the enemy tried and failed three times to overrun Sergeant Byrne's position, he was shot in the neck and shoulder area.

Staff Sgt. Robert Gutierrez, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor, Purple Heart and Air Force Combat Action Medal.

Sergeant Gutierrez earned the medals for two separate deployments to Afghanistan. His Bronze Star Medal was awarded for his actions under intense enemy fire in Afghanistan winter 2008. His Purple Heart was awarded for injuries sustained in late 2009.

Tech. Sgt. Scott Trimble, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor, first oak leaf cluster, and Air Force Combat Action Medal.

During Sergeant Trimble's deployment to Iraq winter-summer of 2008, he directed more than 80 direct-action missions in Iraq. During a mission, Sergeant Trimble was engaged by the enemy from 30 meters away. Reacting quickly, Sergeant Trimble returned fire, killing one and injuring another.

Staff Sgt. Justin Ray, 10th Combat Weather Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor.

While deployed to Southern Afghanistan, Sergeant Ray executed over 70 combat reconnaissance and direct-action missions involving 16 troops-in-contact situations. The missions resulted in 74 enemy killed, 26 enemy wounded, and six high value targets captured. While carrying out his tactical duties as a Special Forces team member, Sergeant Ray completed 176 forward weather observations.

Staff Sgt, Marc Esposito, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and a Purple Heart.

During Sergeant Esposito's deployment to Afghanistan during spring 2009, he conducted 12 combat reconnaissance patrols, fought Taliban forces during four troops-in-contact engagements, coordinating and synchronizing airpower in support of the team's maneuver. Throughout the engagement, he fired at enemy forces with an M-240B machine gun while simultaneously controlling aircraft in support of his team.

Staff Sgt, Jonathan Jones, 10th Combat Weather Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.

During Sergeant Jones' deployment to Afghanistan spring-fall 2009, he participated in 55 outside the wire combat operations and 41 troops-in-contact situations. Sergeant Jones took and disseminated 104 tactical weather observations and accomplished 10 environmental assessments of local terrain and rivers.

Staff Sgt. Robert Laraia, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and an Air Force Combat Action Medal.

During Sergeant Laraia's deployment to Afghanistan he conducted 15 combat reconnaissance patrols, key leadership engagements and humanitarian assistance missions in a remote and volatile region. During one convoy, his team came under direct and accurate rocket propelled grenade, heavy machine gun, and small-arms fire which impacted his vehicle. Sergeant Laraia immediately returned fire while simultaneously coordinating close-air support. Despite the grave danger from rounds impacting his vehicle, he continued to engage the enemy until close air support arrived and then controlled four GBU-38 bombs from a B-1 bomber causing the enemy to disengage and flee the area.

Tech. Sgt. Eric Muller, 17th Air Support Operations Squadron, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, first oak leaf cluster, and an Air Force Combat Action Medal.
During Sergeant Muller's deployment to Afghanistan during the last half of 2007, he and his joint team came under direct small arms and mortar fire while manning a checkpoint. Sergeant Muller quickly radioed for close-air support and took a defensive position on the perimeter to return fire. After the 12-hour battle was over, sources reported 26 enemies killed including a Taliban commander with no friendly soldiers killed.