Master Sgt. Thomas Case, a tactical air control party airman, has joined the ranks of the military's most decorated troops.
And then the gunfire started.
"We received contact," Case said. "It started with a couple pot shots, and escalated to a full crescendo with troops in a contact situation."
An enemy machine gun position about 15 meters away and above then starting firing, pinning the ground team down.
Case was in contact with the team's air support, including a manned surveillance plane, and AC-130 gunship and F-15 jets. The AC-130 needed a few minutes to get in position for its first danger-close strike.
"We opted not to employ the F-15s due to the close proximity," Case said. "Knowing I had a gunship that's much more well versed in close-air support, in that specific mission set. That would be the primary fire."
Case stood up during the gun battle, laying down suppressive fire with his M4 and directed five troops to remain behind cover.
"Due to the extreme close proximity of friendly forces to the enemy, and with bullets still hitting within feet of his position, he again willingly stood up while under fire in order to make sure the rounds from the AC-130 hit the correct target area," Case's citation reads.
As the battle continued, the enemy moved higher and began throwing grenades at the team. One grenade exploded about 10 feet from Case, damaging his helmet and wounding two Rangers.
He continued to direct more air strikes, calling for six more before he moved to link up with the lead element in order to get eyes on the insurgent's entrenched position.
"With the dust and haze from the airstrikes bringing visibility to near zero, he climbed 50 meters up a 60 degree embankment to reach the fire team leader, all while under enemy fire," the citation states.
"It all becomes a blur to me," Case said. "At the same time, we just kept doing (air strikes) until we had regained our freedom to maneuver. The engagement lasted most of the night. … It could have been 30 minutes, it could have been two hours.
"We just continued to hammer the enemy."
"We didn't know how many (insurgents) were there prior to infiltration, we just expected some enemy combatants," Case said. "We didn't expect the fight we faced when we got there."
As the haze cleared, it became apparent that the team's wrong turn was actually a blessing in disguise. The enemy's position had a "commanding view" of the team's original target area, with large-scale weapons directed where the team would have ended up, Case said.
The first Silver Star
During a mission, his team came under heavy fire from small arms, RPGs, mortars, artillery and ZPU-23 anti-aircraft guns. While firing his personal weapon, Case simultaneously directed air strikes.
The battle raged for three days. At one point, the team took more than 300 artillery rounds within eight hours. While exposing himself to direct close-air support, fragments of concrete and shrapnel from the blasts punctured his rucksack and kept knocking him to the ground.
At one point, Case directed 14 aircraft at the same time. Over the course of the battle, Case was responsible for more than 300 enemy casualties, the destruction of 29 tanks, three heavy cargo trucks, nine S-60 anti-aircraft guns, 14 other anti-aircraft pieces, nine 155-millimeter artillery, 22 82-millimeter mortars, six 60-millimeter mortars, eight ammunition caches and 10 enemy boats. His work is credited with ensuring the success and safety of 152 Rangers.
'I just went to work'
"I told my friends and the guys around me. For that first Silver Star, I was a lot younger, that was kind of for me," he said. "I didn't have the mature enough mindset to understand the ramifications of that.
This is really for my career field. I firmly believe that, of the other certified JTACs, I'm almost positive that 98 percent plus of them would have done what I did. I just went to work that night."