A combat controller who received a Bronze Star for his actions during five days of fierce fighting in Afghanistan in 2006 will have his medal upgraded to a Silver Star, the third-highest award for valor.
Chief Master Sgt. Michael West of the 720th Operational Support Squadron originally received a Bronze Star for his actions during the battle at Panjwai Village, Afghanistan. The Air Force decided to upgrade his medal after a Defense Department-directed review of medals awarded since 9/11, the Air Force said in a release Thursday.
The Silver Star will be awarded Dec. 15.
West — who at the time was a master sergeant with the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida — was the joint terminal attack controller attached to a team of Army Green Berets during the Sept. 3-9, 2006, fighting in support of Operation Medusa, a Canadian-led offensive against the Taliban in Panjwai District.
Over the five-day period, according to the citation accompanying West’s Silver Star, he “displayed extraordinary bravery, technical skill, and a complete disregard for his own safety during two climactic battles over five days of near continuous contact with hostile forces.”
He controlled more than 88 attack airplanes and helicopters and called in airstrikes that delivered more than 24,000 pounds of precision-guided munitions, which killed more than 500 Taliban fighters, the citation said — all while exposing himself to “direct and accurate enemy fire.”
Several times, airstrikes he directed kept the Taliban from overrunning friendly forces, or allowed allies to break contact with the Taliban and regroup with minimal casualties, the citation said. His actions saved 51 Green Berets and 33 coalition partners, the Air Force said.
“By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Sergeant West has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force,” the citation said.
Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, will officiate the ceremony at Hurlburt.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.