Tech. Sgt. Alan Yoshida, who integrated close-air support missions into Special Forces operations. In the push for Kandahar, Yoshida often was exposed to enemy fire while directing punishing airstrikes that broke the Taliban’s back.

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 Alan T. Yoshida, United States Air Force, for gallantry in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United States near Sayyd Alma Kalay, Afghanistan, from 30 November to 4 December 2001. Sergeant Yoshida rode with the lead elements of Northern Alliance Commander Hamid Karzai's ground force as they advanced and seized the town of Sayyd Alma Kalay. On the night of 3 December 2001, in an attempt to reoccupy the town, Taliban forces launched a major counterattack across the Arghendab River forcing a majority of the Northern Alliance soldiers to retreat to the north. Over the next eight hours, despite being outnumbered two to one and in grave danger of being overrun, Sergeant Yoshida orchestrated numerous danger-close air strikes, crushing the Taliban attack and forcing the enemy to retreat to the southern side of the river, saving both his team members and hundreds of Afghanis in the nearby town. On 4 December 2001, Sergeant Yoshida, accompanied by friendly forces, attacked a critical hilltop overlooking the only bridge in the sector crossing the Arghendab River. While exposed to intense machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades, Sergeant Yoshida advanced toward the hilltop to ascertain the location of three key targets on the hillside. Under heavy fire, Sergeant Yoshida meticulously plotted out the enemy positions, developed aircraft attack restrictions and determined optimal munitions selection, resulting in neutralization of the enemy threat, survival of friendly forces and ensuring the strategically vital bridge remained intact. Staff Sergeant Yoshida's heroic actions prevented a second friendly retreat and directly resulted in the occupation of the critical hilltop by friendly forces. Less than 24 hours later, the Taliban requested a cease-fire and sent a delegation to surrender the city of Kandahar to Hamid Karzai. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Staff Sergeant Yoshida has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Remarks for the Farewell to Secretary of the Air Force James Roche
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Andrews Air Force Base, MD, Tuesday, January 18, 2005, an excerpt

But there’s something else that Jim accomplished in these last several years that may not make its way into a news column or a book.  But many airmen will remember this quality most of all.  They will remember how Jim Roche touched their lives.  How he and Diane traveled around the world to meet them and hear them.  How he spent his time here in Washington watching out for them—making sure they have the tools and parts they need to do their jobs.  How he understood that they are the very lifeblood of our air and space force.


Staff Sergeant Alan Yoshida will remember.  He is a Combat Controller who was in Afghanistan in the opening days of the war.  His service there, by all accounts, was exemplary.  He orchestrated many air strikes—even some that they call “danger close”—that helped crush the Taliban resistance and saved members of his team and Afghan forces fighting alongside them.  Sergeant Yoshida’s right arm was wounded so badly in combat that he could no longer raise it to salute. 


Jim first met Alan Yoshida on a visit to Pope Air Force Base when Sgt. Yoshida received a Purple Heart.  In talking to Alan, Jim learned that this young man—who knew combat first-hand—had some promising ideas about helping his fellow controllers fight, survive and win in combat.  One idea was that the communications kit that special operators use to call in air strikes was too heavy. 


So, Jim challenged the young sergeant to put together a task force to look at the problem.  He made sure that Sgt. Yoshida was able to stay on active duty.  And, he called on leaders in the defense industry to lend their support.  The result is a new battlefield air operations kit with improved communications links that’s also more responsive in processing target and location information.  And—perhaps most important for the combat airmen on the ground—it weighs less than half as much.


Jim tells people that he got a sergeant to cut through all the bureaucracy.  He also likes to say that not only do our pilots and aircrews work for the combat sergeants on the ground.  But now the officers in acquisition do, too.


But, Secretary Roche didn’t stop there.  He wanted the Air Force to focus more on developing the critical joint skills that people like Sergeant Yoshida bring to the fight—airmen who are embedded with Army line and special operations units, who coordinate close air support or jump into the thick of combat.  So he created a new specialty code called “Battlefield Airman” that encompasses the Combat Rescue, Special Tactics, Tactical Air Control Party and Combat Weather career fields.  Given their indispensable role in our joint fight, it’s probably no surprise that four of the 12 recipients of this year’s prestigious Outstanding Airman award are Battlefield Airmen.


Jim, there are many other Alan Yoshidas out there who thank you—from the enlisted airmen who can now pursue post-graduate work at the Air Force Institute of Technology to the individual airmen and officers you’ve personally helped to untangle bureaucratic red tape—yes, we do have some of that!