In September 2015, then-Staff Sgt. Brian Claughsey was deployed with the 21st Special Tactics Squadron in Afghanistan when his team got a call: The city of Kunduz was under attack by the Taliban.

Claughsey, a combat controller, linked up with Army Special Forces soldiers with the goal of liberating the city and recapturing its airfield.

In an ongoing firefight over the next four days, he and the other members of the team fought their way through back-to-back ambushes. Claughsey engaged the enemy while calling in close-air support and helped keep more than 100 people safe.

For his actions, Claughsey, now a technical sergeant, received the Silver Star during a ceremony at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Friday.

Liberating Kunduz

As Claughsey and his team were driving to the Kunduz airfield Sept. 29, 2015, they saw civilians fleeing the city.

"[That] is usually a pretty telltale sign that the Taliban has taken over," Claughsey told reporters during a phone interview Friday before the ceremony.

After a night of fighting, the U.S. service members re-secured the airfield, but when they returned to the forward operating base, they were told the entire city had fallen to the Taliban.

"We were going to go back in that night and go all the way into the city and liberate Kunduz so we could give [the residents] their city back," he said.

Claughsey rode in the fourth truck of a 50-vehicle convoy, consisting of pickup trucks from the Afghan National Army and vehicles from the Special Forces team.

"As we started going into the city, we got past the airfield and as soon as we [did], we started taking fire from a building," he said.

Claughsey called in the AC-130U flying overhead and directed fire toward the Taliban position, according to his Silver Star narrative.

"We got back into the convoy, and from there on out, [we took fire] about every 100 to 200 meters," he said. "The C-130 did a phenomenal job of putting rounds down and keeping us safe and allowing us to continue on."

After a third ambush from a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device that was detonated, the convoy had to stop at a four-way intersection where six insurgents opened fire with machine guns.

As Claughsey's truck attempted to suppress the enemy, two Special Forces soldiers drove an all-terrain vehicle between the truck and the enemy, engaging them with a machine gun.

"Those two guys were really the reason my vehicle survived any of that ambush," he said, adding that he also directed C-130 fire on the insurgents.

With them out of the way, the team cleared one of the buildings off the road — from which they operated for the next four days.

"Once we got into that compound, it was fairly sustained fighting for four days," he said. "There was no downtime … you typically see lulls in the fight, like at night. That certainly didn't happen."

An Afghan National Army helicopter flies near an Afghan military base during fighting between Taliban militants and Afghan security forces in Kunduz on October 1, 2015. Afghan forces pushed into the centre of Kunduz on October 1, triggering pitched gunfights as they sought to flush out Taliban insurgents who held the northern city for three days in a stinging blow to the country's NATO-trained military The stunning fall of the provincial capital, even temporarily, highlighted the stubborn insurgency's potential to expand beyond its rural strongholds in the south of the country Afghan forces, hindered by the slow arrival of reinforcements but backed by NATO special forces and US air support, struggled to regain control of the city after three days of heavy fighting. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
An Afghan National Army helicopter flies near an Afghan military base during fighting between Taliban militants and Afghan security forces in Kunduz on October 1, 2015. Afghan forces pushed into the centre of Kunduz on October 1, triggering pitched gunfights as they sought to flush out Taliban insurgents who held the northern city for three days in a stinging blow to the country's NATO-trained military The stunning fall of the provincial capital, even temporarily, highlighted the stubborn insurgency's potential to expand beyond its rural strongholds in the south of the country Afghan forces, hindered by the slow arrival of reinforcements but backed by NATO special forces and US air support, struggled to regain control of the city after three days of heavy fighting. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)

An Afghan national army helicopter flies near a military base during fighting between Taliban militants and Afghan security forces in Kunduz on Oct. 1, 2015. Around this time, a team of Air Force combat controllers, Special Forces operators and Afghan forces fought insurgents during a four-day battle to push the Taliban out of Kunduz.

Photo Credit: WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images


At one point, one of the special operators called Claughsey on the radio to ask for support at their position.

"They were taking very effective fire from mortars and small arms," he said. "I coordinated with the [overhead] F-16 and did some strafing."

The repeated attack from the low-flying F-16 was effective, but a few hours later, the Taliban made a final push to try to take over the compound.

The troops were attacked from three sides, which pinned Claughsey down on a rooftop while another combat controller called in air support on another side of the compound.

While stuck on the roof, Claughsey and a Special Forces soldier engaged the enemy with M4 assault rifles and grenade launchers.

The fighting lasted about an hour, with Claughsey using his weapon's laser to mark the enemy location for F-16 strikes.

After the close-range strikes, the fighting ended and Claughsey was able to get off the roof.

"Over the course of the intense firefight to liberate Kunduz from Taliban control, Staff Sergeant Claughsey expertly coordinated 17 separate close-air support engagements, resulting in many enemy killed in action and no civilian or friendly casualties — ensuring the safety of 36 U.S. Army Special Forces personnel and the 110 Afghan partner force personnel," according to the narrative.

Tech. Sgt. Brian Claughsey, a combat controller, coordinated 17 airstrike missions during a four-day fight in Afghanistan to liberate the city of Kunduz from Taliban control.

Photo Credit: Air Force


Humble hero

Claughsey, who enlisted in 2008, said his intense, two-year training helped prepare him for a situation like this.

"Your training kicks in and it takes over," he said. "It wasn't the first time I was stressed out or hadn't slept in four days straight."

The combat controller community also shares stories with each other to make sure younger guys are ready to get out there and adapt to whatever they might be exposed to, Claughsey said.

Lt. Col. Stewart Parker, the 21st Special Tactics Squadron commander, said he has enjoyed his time working with Claughsey.

"You'd never know if you met him on the street the kind of hero he is because he just doesn't wear it on his sleeve," Parker said.

Claughsey said receiving the Silver Star is "really humbling" and shows him that the other combat controllers and Special Forces team members had confidence in him.

"It's humbling to be a part of such a large team and such a joint force that did a really incredible job of getting the city back to the Afghan people, who deserved to have their city," he said.

Watching the state of the city change from when they arrived to when the civilians were able to return was a great feeling, he said.

"When we came in, it was nothing but Taliban," Claughsey said. "And these people were back in their homes and waving on our way out."

Charlsy Panzino covers the Guard and Reserve, training, technology, operations and features for Army Times and Air Force Times. Email her at cpanzino@militarytimes.com.