The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918 (amended by an act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Staff Sergeant Gabriel P. Brown, United States Air Force, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving as a Combat Controller with the 17th Air Support Operations Squadron, 22d Special Tactics Squadron, in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM during Operation ANACONDA ,near Marzak, Patkia Province, Afghanistan, on March 4, 2002. Sergeant Brown was the primary ground forward air controller assigned to a quick-reaction force task to recover two American servicemen evading capture in austere terrain occupied by massed al-Qaida and Taliban forces. Shortly before landing, his MH-47E helicopter received accurate rocket-propelled grenade and small-arms fire, severely disabling the aircraft and causing it to crash land. Sergeant Brown and the remainder of the assault force formed a hasty defense and immediately suffered four fatalities and five critical casualties. In spite of the battle's intensity, he held his position and directed Air Force fighter aircraft in eight separate strafing runs against multiple reinforced enemy positions. In the direst of situations, he called in three Guided Bomb Unit-12 bombs and two Hellfire missiles within 75 meters of his own position, destroying a fortified bunker. This decisive action allowed his small force to secure the high terrain. Meanwhile, an enemy patrol flanked the team from the south, mortally wounding one Pararescueman in a 20-minute barrage of fire. Sergeant Brown again directed close-air support assets against these positions, eliminating the threat. His boldness of spirit, drive and technical lethality saved the lives of 26 American servicemen. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Staff Sergeant Brown has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
During the 17-hour engagement called the "Battle of Robert's Ridge," two Airmen were posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, and Gabriel Brown was one of EIGHT Airmen awarded the Silver Star. The battle was so-named because it followed an incident in which Navy Seal Neil Roberts fell from a helicopter as it attempted to land on a mountaintop controlled by al Qaeda fighters, initiating an intense and heroic rescue effort.
 Combat Controller, Gabe Brown, recalls Operation Anaconda

05/29/02 - HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AFPN) -- On a small hilltop in a remote region of Afghanistan, an Air Force Combat Controller put his training to the test to save the lives of his teammates and those they were sent in to help.

Staff Sgt. Gabe Brown was part of the response force sent in during Operation Anaconda, March 4. What began as a rescue mission would end with a fierce firefight during the battle of Takur Ghar.

Operation Anaconda was part of the ongoing effort in Afghanistan to root out Taliban and al-Qaida forces holed up in the Pakitia Province area of the country. The operation began March 3, with the insertion of U.S. and coalition forces into the region south of Kabul. The helicopters took fire, landing a few miles away from their objective area.

Miles away at the base camp, Brown was roused from sleep and told to start "spooling up. A helo is down."

Knowing little more than they were flying out for a rescue operation, Brown grabbed his gear and headed to the departing helicopter.

"We only had a bit of information on what was happening," said the sergeant, a nine-year Combat Controller assigned to an operating location of the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark.

Nearing the scene of the downed helicopter, Brown and others on board prepared for the landing. The other Air Force special tactics people on board the helicopter with Brown were Senior Airman Jason Cunningham and Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller, both pararescuemen.

(From left to right) Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller, Senior Airman Jason Cunningham and Staff Sgt. Gabe Brown about three weeks before the battle. Behind them is a MH-47E, the same type of helicopter that took them to Takur Ghar.

"The helo was (hovering close to) the ground when we took fire," said Brown. "We were shot at by several (rocket-propelled grenades) and small arms fire. The padding that lines the inside of the helicopter was flying around like confetti. All I could think of was, 'Here we go!’”

The helicopter had landed on a flat area of mountainside. Half the area faced a cliff side with a drop off of more than 1,000 feet. The other half was dotted with trees, rocks and pathways.

Less than 20 meters from where the helicopter came to rest, a hostile group just started shooting at us nonstop, said Brown.

Four members of the rescue team were killed instantly, as the rest scrambled out of the helicopter seeking cover.

"One of the Rangers opened fire and killed one of the enemy troops,” said Brown. “The shots were coming from every direction."

Knowing air power was essential, Brown took cover by a rock near the landing zone. He grabbed his communications gear and linked up with airborne aircraft.

"All I kept thinking was we needed (close air support) and we needed it now," said Brown. "My job was to concentrate on bringing in the bombs to knock out the enemy, and I knew I needed to do it fast. It was almost surreal in the sense I didn't feel as if I was in the middle of all that was happening."

From his position, the Combat Controller could see the enemy fire coming from a small bunker off to his left.

"I had an aircraft overhead carrying 500-pound bombs, but the 'bad guys' were too close to our position to drop that much ammo without risking our lives. I waved the pilot off the bomb run. I had him come around and strafe the area with guns," said the sergeant.

The aircraft made a low and hard sweep over the entrenched area, popping off rounds at the enemy troops.

"You could see the snow flying off the ground near the bunker and I knew he was hitting it," said Brown.

The aircraft made several more passes at the enemy before indicating he was out of ammo.

Despite the thousands of rounds pitting the area, the al-Qaida forces kept firing.

"I kept yelling across the area at the platoon leader about our options to eliminate the bunker,” said Brown. “We coordinated on what we needed to do to 'frag' out the enemy and blow the bunker. We knew the bad guys were still hiding in the bunker. We were already two hours into the fight and it was only going to get worse if we couldn't take down their position."

Using his close air support training and skills, Brown targeted the spot using precision bombs. The need was urgent as additional al-Qaida troops were pulling up the mountaintop toward the U.S. team.

"If we couldn't kill the bunker, we were going to be surrounded,” said Brown. “We knew that we had enemy soldiers hiding in the terrain to our (right). Effectively, they were moving in on us and we had nowhere to go."

The danger-close call proved effective, as the bombs skidded across the side of the mountain just in time and collapsed the bunker.

"The noise was just like it sounds in the movies," said Brown. "You could smell the burning pine off the trees and see the snow kicking off the ground."

Staying on the "comm" link with his airborne support, the sergeant kept glued to the rock protecting himself from the volley of enemy fire. The temperatures were extreme, barely hovering above freezing. Minutes seemed like hours, and hours passed in minutes.

"It is not a stress I'd recommend to anyone,” he said. “Our training prepares us for the worst possible scenarios, and this was one of those scenarios you pray is never a reality. The intensity is there and the longer it goes on the harder you fight."

But with the bunker out of action and the enemy forces moving up toward the Americans, Brown turned his attention to the rock and tree cluster on the other side of the landing zone.

"Since I couldn't use target designators, I needed some marking to be able to talk the bombs onto target," said Brown. "I used a small tree I referred to as the bonsai tree as a reference point."

Brown cleared a fighter pilot to drop bombs. When the smoke cleared the tree was now just a stick in the ground, he said.

Enemy resistance waned and Brown took a breath. The reality of the firefight sank in. Somewhere in the midst of the battle his friend and teammate, Cunningham, had been hit, the wounds fatal. The pararescueman was among seven killed on the mountainside that day.

   Silver Star winners visit the       Warrior Airmen exhibition
Senior Master Sergeant (SMSgt) Kevin Whalen and Staff Sergeant (SSgt) Gabe Brown view the Battle of Takur Ghar exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio on the opening night of the new "Warrior Airmen" exhibit there on January 12, 2009. SSgt Brown participated in in the Battle of Takur Ghar and was awarded the Silver Star for his actions during that battle.

"A lot happened in those 14 to 15 hours," said Brown. "There will always be the variables you can't control. Throughout the events you are mentally tired and mentally alert. You can only focus on what needs to be done right then and there. You grieve later."

As the Americans gained control over the maddening firefight, other teams were cleared to come in and pull them out.

"We should all stand tall and take pride in knowing that all our men -- those who made it off the mountain and those who did not -- are heroes," said the senior ranking special tactics officer in theater. "In sacrificing their lives and facing down a numerically superior enemy, they set the standard for all of us. I can tell you unequivocally that everyone performed with great valor … on that there is no question."

The close air support had stopped the enemy from overrunning the Americans on the mountain, and provided a show of force against those seeking to reinforce the enemy troop movements.

With the landing zone cleared and darkness falling, the Americans were extracted from the mountaintop. Two helicopters moved in to pull out the wounded, the survivors and those who had given their lives in the fight against terrorism.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Gabriel Brown 
Combat Controller Earns Pitsenbarger Award
for Actions During Battle at Takur Ghar
RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas, July 9, 2003 (AFPN) — A Combat Controller from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., has been named the 2003 Pitsenbarger award winner.

Staff Sgt. Gabriel Brown was selected for his heroism while supporting Operation Anaconda during Operation Enduring Freedom.

While attached to the 75th Ranger Regiment, his quick-reaction force was called to extract a team of five U.S. Navy SEALs and one Combat Control team member. Brown controlled the close-air support assets for more than 15 hours during the battle at Takur Ghar, Afghanistan.

As other members of the reaction force cleared enemy positions, Brown moved to higher ground and repelled several enemy counterattacks with close-air support. He did this while
under constant enemy machine gun, rocket-propelled grenade and mortar fire. His actions directly contributed to saving the lives of 26 quick-reaction force members.

Brown was named recipient of the 2003 Vanguard Award in May for his actions during this battle as well.

"I would like to recognize the league of men (former Pitsenbarger award recipients) with whom I have the prestigious honor of joining," said Brown, "and I dedicate this award to the seven great men who paid the ultimate price that fateful day to keep America free."

The Air Force Sergeant's Association gives the Pitsenbarger Award annually to an Air Force enlisted member for heroic acts, on or off duty, that save a life or prevent serious injury.

To learn more about Operation Anaconda, Click Here