Lt. Gen. Eric E. Fiel, Air Force Special Operations Command commander, pins the Silver Star onto Staff Sgt. Adam Krueger, 22nd Special Tactics Squadron combat controller, Jan. 24 at a ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Krueger was awarded the medal for his action against the Taliban during a 12-hour firefight in Afghanistan in May 2010. (Staff Sgt. Sean Tobin / Air Force)
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One Silver Star. Eight Bronze Stars with Valor. Ten Bronze Stars. One Purple Heart.
The 24th Special Operations Wing — the Air Force's most combat-decorated unit since the end of the Vietnam War — received so many medals it took two ceremonies to deliver them all last month.
The honorees were airmen from the 125th Special Tactics Squadron based at Portland Air National Guard Base, Oregon, and the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
"Between [the] demanding pace of today's global special operations and your community's commitment to quiet professionalism, we do not come together often enough to recognize the tremendous dedication of our special tactics," said Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, Air Force Special Operations Command commander, during the Jan. 24 ceremony honoring members of the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron at Lewis-McChord.
"If I were to ask any one of these men what they think about these decorations, I'm sure that they would all humbly respond that they were just doing their job," he said.
One of those men was Staff Sgt. Adam Krueger, who was awarded the Silver Star, the third highest combat military decoration in the United States.
"It's more of a credit to my training and the guys who were with me on the ground that day and the aircraft who supported us," Krueger said in an email.
Krueger was the sole joint terminal attack controller with the Army Operational Detachment assigned to the 22nd Expeditionary Special Tactics Squadron based out of Afghanistan in 2010.
"My job was to integrate airpower (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, rotary wing airlift, fire support) and command and control," he explained by email.
Krueger and his team were tasked with clearing out insurgents from an abandoned village so civilians living by the province could move back into their homes.
In May 2010, while patrolling on foot through the village of Mullah Wazir, Afghanistan, the team was ambushed by an awaiting enemy less than 10 meters, around 35 feet, from a safe zone.
"We needed to get off the road immediately," Krueger said, who added he was "extremely focused on aircraft deconfliction, attack headings, ordinance, friendly positions and enemy positions" during the event.
According to his valor citation, the Army Special Forces team attached to his unit became pinned down, prompting Krueger to call for an F-15 strafing run to allow the patrol to fight its way into a compound and establish a strong point.
"Even when the initial ambush happened and I was controlling aircraft, guys were still also doing their jobs amongst the detachment and ground forces throughout the entire day. Guys were definitely watching after each other and making sure everyone was well equipped to do the job they were assigned," Krueger said.
During the 12-hour firefight, two soldiers were hit with enemy rounds. Krueger exposed himself to enemy fire to direct another air attack to allow the wounded members to be moved to safety and yet again to mark the landing zone for the medical evacuation helicopter, enabling the life-saving patient evacuation. Additionally, Krueger directed nine danger-close airstrikes, which helped kill 50 Taliban fighters, according to the Air Force.
"After the event, I was exhausted," he said.
"Regardless of danger, close or not, it was pretty stressful because fratricide is a huge concern when you're telling someone in the air where to shoot," he said.
Krueger's medal marks the 32nd Silver Star earned by Air Force Special Operations Command Special Tactics airmen since 9/11. He was also awarded the Bronze Star.
"This, to me, was more a show of what the military can do when everyone works together," he said.
Others receiving honors were: Master Sgt. Douglas Neville, Tech. Sgt. Michael Orlando, Staff Sgt. Joshua Busch, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Roberts, Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Salazar and Staff Sgt. Michael Wilhelm, who each received the Bronze Star with valor; Capt. Joshua Barlow, Tech. Sgt. Michael A. Kurta, Tech. Sgt. Matthew McKenna, Senior Airman Benjamin De Boer, Senior Airman Christopher Kagan and Senior Airman John Moyle, who received the Bronze Star.
"The stories ... are inspiring and call each of us to rededicate ourselves, preparing for our own moment of opportunity, when a critical mission and the lives of our teammates will demand that we realize our full potential," Fiel said.
The first ceremony Jan. 23 awarded five airmen from Portland's 125th Special Tactics Squadron with Bronze Stars, two of which included the "V" for valor, and another received the Purple Heart.
Recipients of the Bronze Stars with Valor were Staff Sgt. David A. Albright and Senior Airman Chadwick J. Boles; Bronze Stars went to Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey A. Dolezal, Staff Sgt. Jacob M. Guffey, and Master Sgt. Scott A. Geisser; Tech. Sgt. Douglas J. Matthews was awarded the Purple Heart.