You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

JTAC to get Air Force Cross

Feb. 26, 2009 - 07:10PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 26, 2009 - 07:10PM  |  
  • Filed Under

A combat controller is set to receive the Air Force Cross, the service's second highest medal for valor, Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz announced Thursday at the Air Force Association's winter conference.

  • Please enable JavaScript for your browser in order to use
Want to read more?
Current Subscribers
Access to Air Force Times Prime is free for current Air Force Times subscribers.
Log in
Haven't registered online?
Activate Account
New Subscribers
Start your subscription to Air Force Times Prime for as little as 59¢ a week!

A combat controller is set to receive the Air Force Cross, the service's second highest medal for valor, Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz announced Thursday at the Air Force Association's winter conference.

Schwartz called Staff Sgt. Zachary Rhyner to stand at the beginning of his speech and detailed how the special operations airman called in air strike after air strike despite being wounded during a seven-hour battle in Afghanistan.

Rhyner, a special operations combat controller and joint terminal air controller assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, N.C., was part of an air assault on a high mountain valley in Afghanistan on April 6, 2008.

About 40 U.S. Special Forces troops, including Rhyner and another combat controller, and 100 Afghan commandos were helicoptered onto the valley ridges, where they were attacked by an estimated 200 Taliban fighters. About half the U.S. troops soldiers were wounded, but all survived. Two of the Afghan commandos died.

In an interview with Air Force News Service before he learned he would received the Air Force Cross, Rhyner recalled the battle's start.

"Initial infiltration began that day with snow on the ground, jagged rocks, a fast-moving river and a cliff," he said. "There was a 5-foot wall you had to pull yourself up."

The U.S. and Afghan troops expected to find about 70 insurgents.

"We were caught off guard as 200 enemy fighters approached," said Staff Sgt. Rob Gutierrez, the combat controller with a second team in the battle. "Within 10 minutes, we were ambushed with heavy fire from 50 meters. The teams were split by a river 100 to 200 meters apart, north to south."

During the first 15 minutes, Rhyner was wounded along with three team members.

"I was pulling security when I got shot in the leg," he said. "The rounds hit my left thigh and went through my leg and hit another guy in the foot."

Rhyner remembered the pain and adrenalin.

"There was nowhere to go. I grabbed the wounded guys, but we were trapped by the enemy," he said. "I was calling in air strikes and firing, while moving the wounded down [the cliff]."

By the end of the battle, Rhyner had called in a total of 4,570 rounds of cannon fire, nine Hellfire missiles, 162 rockets, a dozen 500-pound bombs and one 2,000-pound bomb, while firing his M-4 rifle to protect his team.

"If it wasn't for Zach, I wouldn't be here," Gutierrez said.

Rhyner will be the third airman to earn the Air Force Cross since 2001. He will receive the medal March 10 at the Pentagon, an Air Force spokesman said.

The two other airmen to earn the Air Force Cross in recent years were awarded the medal posthumously:">Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham, a pararescueman, and">Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, a combat controller, who both died in 2002 during the Battle for Roberts Ridge, part of Operation Anaconda.

Staff writer Mel Gray and the Air Force News Service contributed to the story.

Read more about the goings-on at the Air Force Association Winter Conference at our">blog.

Answers by RallyPoint

Join trending discussions in the military's #1 professional community. See what members like yourself have to say from across the DoD.

More In News

Start your day with a roundup of top defense news.

VA Home Loan

Search By:

Product Options:
Zip Code:

News for your in-box

Sign up now for free Military Times E-Reports. Choose from Money and Education. Subscribers: log in for premium e-newsletters.

This Week's Air Force Times

This Week's Air Force Times

CrossFit vs. unit PT
Troops will do the training plans in a $2.5 million study

Subscribe for Print or Digital delivery today!

MilitaryTimes Green Trusted Classifieds Looking to buy, sell and connect on Military Times?
Browse expanded listings across hundreds of military installations.
Faces of valorHonoring those who fought and died in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
hall of valorThe Hall of Valor is a searchable database of valor award citations collected by Doug Sterner, a Vietnam veteran and Military Times contributing editor, and by Military Times staff.

All you need to know about your military benefits.

Benefits handbook

Guard & Reserve All you need to know about the Guard & Reserve.

guard and reserve handbook