RAF Mildenhall Combat Controller earns Grateful Nation Award
November 11, 2011
By Tech. Sgt. Kevin
100th Air Refueling
Wing Public Affairs
"First There" is a motto Combat Controllers bellow during their two-year
training pipeline, and later affirm in blood, sweat and sacrifice on the most
forward-deployed and dangerous battlefields as they pave the way for other
forces to follow.
As a member of the most highly trained special
operations force in the U.S. military, Tech. Sgt. Ted Hofknecht, 321st Special
Tactics Squadron, upheld the meaning of that motto in three notable combat
engagements in remote areas of Afghanistan, and was honored at the Jewish
Institute of National Security Affairs awards dinner in Washington, DC, Nov.
Hofknecht and five other Service members were selected by the top
uniformed officers in the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and
U.S. Special Operations Command to represent their respective service at the
dinner, and earned the JINSA Grateful Nation Award.
The JINSA Grateful
Nation Award was established in 2003 and only six service members are recognized
with that award annually for superior conduct in the War on Terrorism.
Sgt. Ted Hofknecht, 321st Special Tactics Squadron, rides toward a
combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan. Hofknecht, a Crossville native,
was attached to an elite Army Green Beret unit tasked with providing
foreign internal defense to coalition forces operating in Afghanistan
and was honored at the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs
awards dinner in Washington, DC, Nov. 7, 2011, receiving the JINSA
Grateful Nation Award. Only six service members receive the award
Hofknecht was attached to an elite Army Green Beret unit tasked with providing
foreign internal defense to NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)
Service members operating in Afghanistan, and distinguished himself as a joint
terminal attack controller from September 2010 through February
“Our main mission was to mentor traditional coalition soldiers, who
in turn advised the Afghan National Security Forces and local police,” said
Hofknecht, a 28-year-old Combat Controllerler, or CCT, from Crossville,
In the mountainous terrain of eastern Afghanistan, Hofknecht utilized
airpower and soldiering skills in two notable troops-in-contact (TIC)
situations, where his efforts were vital in neutralizing insurgent
On numerous occasions, the controller repelled point-blank enemy
attacks with his M-4 rifle, controlled close-air support (CAS), directed medical
evacuations and personally saved the lives of four coalition
For his actions during the six-month deployment, Hofknecht was
awarded a bronze star medal. He also earned a bronze star with valor for heroism
during a major battle Dec. 7, 2010.
Starting like most other days,
Hofknecht awoke to snow falling upon the makeshift buildings at his combat
outpost, high in the mountains above the Tagab Valley in Kapisa Province,
It was an utterly serene December morning, he said. But,
that was all about to change.
Hofknecht and a combined team of coalition
and ANSF soldiers geared up for a patrol toward an insurgent-infested village,
where they hoped to establish new observation posts (OP) at a location key to
disrupt regional Taliban activity and impede their gateway to Kabul.
CCT’s job was to control air assets and provide CAS for coalition
“The village our team headed toward was at the foot of a steep
mountain that joined two valleys,” said Hofknecht, a 10-year Air Force veteran.
“To establish an OP on that mountain would give the coalition over-watch of the
entire area. The Taliban knew how important that mountain was and were prepared
to do whatever it took to maintain control over it.”
As the combined
force approached their target area, they split into separate teams. Their team
leaders, consisting of three ISAF officers and an Afghan leader took one team
toward a flank on the mountain. Meanwhile, one assault team sought to secure the
village and the other prepared for a frontal assault of the
Hofknecht was on the team securing the village and his squad
quickly came under fire as insurgents assaulted the coalition forces with
small-arms and machine gun fire.
As Hofknecht’s team returned fire on the
insurgents near them, the officers’ team struck an improvised explosive device
on the ridge of the mountain. An outnumbering insurgent force then ambushed
“The enemy was about 150 meters away and we were in heavy
vegetation, which took away some of our tactical advantage when using CAS,” said
Hofknecht, who was engaged in a fierce firefight while directing CAS to his
comrades’ location, who were suffering a brutal assault after already suffering
casualties in the IED blast.
The situation began to look a bit brighter
as two U.S. Army helicopters acknowledged they were in route.
that brightness soon faded.
“We ended up getting a pair of Kiowa
helicopters, but one had a broken gun switch and couldn’t expend any ordnance,”
Knowing the team that hit the IED was in bad shape and
had casualties needing aeromedical evacuation, Hofknecht and his team hastily
maneuvered through an ongoing brutal enemy ambush to assist the
“The broken Kiowa expended its rockets and then had to return
to a nearby [forward operating base] and attempted to fix their weapon systems,”
said Hofknecht. “We kept fighting with what weapons we had.”
Hofknecht arrived on the mountain ridge, he found one ISAF captain dead, the
Afghan leader and other members of the element wounded. Reacting quickly,
Hofknecht and a fellow Green Beret carried the Afghan leader about a kilometer
and began to load him and other casualties into one remaining operational
vehicle, and prepared to get them to an aeromedical evacuation site.
primary landing zone (LZ) was under intense fire so the casualties had to be
moved to an alternate LZ, which was a short drive away.
two teams, Hofknecht sped off toward the LZ while the remaining forces fought on
to secure the mountain.
As the small convoy pushed toward the LZ, a team
of Taliban set up a trap.
“We left with only my Green Beret buddy,
myself, the wounded and dead, and had no working crew-serve weapon on board, so
pretty much had two M-4s to defend ourselves with,” said Hofknecht. “At first we
had a small Afghan security detail but they soon had to return to the fight
which left just the two of us to get our casualties to that LZ.”
All of a
sudden, a hail of rounds began hitting the truck. When Hofknecht looked back, he
found a coordinated ambush about 25 meters from his position.
Kiowa flew overhead to provide air support for the casualties, saw the ambush
happening from above and responded.
“I looked up and saw the Kiowa above
us, and the co-pilot was hanging out of the side of the helicopter engaging the
enemy with his M-4,” said Hofknecht. “It was a sight I’ll never
As his team crested a ridge top, Hofknecht said he could see
sparkles from across the entire valley where hundreds of insurgents were firing
at the circling Kiowa.
“It was intense. They would intermittingly fire at
our CAS, then shift fire to us, then back to the helicopter,” said Hofknecht.
“It went back and forth like that for a long time, but our CAS never budged.
They kept taking the brunt of the incoming fire and helping suppress our
The five-hour battle ended with coalition and insurgent
casualties, but the Taliban suffered far more losses than the combined coalition
and ANSF team, said Hofknecht.
“It was all sketchy at that time, but we
fought our best with what we had,” said Hofknecht. “We put pressure on the
Taliban and got our jobs done.”
Hofknecht was involved in two more
significant TICs during his deployment and, at one point, was attacked at
point-blank range in an alley with no cover.
“I was pretty much forced to
move forward and try to close on the shooter while returning fire with no
cover,” said Hofknecht. “My training is the only thing that kept me alive at
that point, because my mind had already checked out, it seemed.”
Hofknecht, losing some of his close friends during different firefights
elsewhere in Afghanistan stays with him daily and has forever changed his
Before joining the ranks of the elite CCT, Hofknecht spent the
first six years of his Air Force career as a mechanic, which was challenging but
didn’t afford him the opportunity to deploy to the front lines, he said. With an
unrelenting yearning to be ‘first there,’ the controller can’t wait for his next
“Being a CCT and the mixed missions we embark on really
intrigues me,” said Hofknecht. “I’m honored by the JINSA Award and bronze stars,
but I don’t do what I do for medals or awards. My fellow controllers are my
family, my brothers. I wouldn’t choose any other way to live.”