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Eight airmen recognized for Mideast raids, including one that killed ‘top Al Qaeda leader’

Eight special tactics airmen received awards following a three-month deployment with the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan last summer, according to the 24th Special Operations Wing.

The airmen were part of a joint task force that accomplished 129 direct action raids and 153 kinetic strikes over a 105-day rotation.

The eight airmen received two Bronze Star Medals with valor, two Purple Heart Medals, one Joint Service Commendation Medal with valor and seven Air Force Commendation Medals during a ceremony at the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Savannah, Georgia, on Feb. 18.

Rangers regularly serve as the centerpiece of nighttime raids across the country, with enablers like special tactics airmen who coordinate airstrikes and airlift during missions. The airmen hailed from the 17th Special Tactics Squadron, which is garrisoned on Hunter Army Airfield and works closely with 1st Ranger Battalion.

Dates for the entire deployment were not given in a press release issued this week, and spokespeople for the 24th Special Operations Wing did not respond to a request for further information. One of the airmen, Tech Sgt. Bryan Gartside, received the Bronze Star Medal following a joint counterterrorism raid in July, though.

“Gartside exposed himself to engage the closest enemy fighter with his own rifle while simultaneously calling a danger-close air strike on the enemy position,” the release reads. “Throughout the battle, he continued to expose himself to identify enemy fighters and call in precise danger-close strikes eliminating enemy forces.”

The release also noted that President Donald Trump directed and praised one of their operations that “successfully killed the top al-Qaeda leader of the region.”

The name of the leader was not stated, but the leader of al-Qaeda’s South Asian branch, Asim Umar, was killed in a Sept. 23 raid in Musa Qala district of Helmand province, Afghan officials said on Twitter in October.

Another airman, Staff Sgt. Zachary Sherwood, was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart medals “for his selfless actions during a night-time raid in late July.”

“As the only airman and assistant team leader on his raid force, Sherwood was personally exposed to hostile fire while calling in several danger-close strikes taking out enemy forces, anti-aircraft machine guns and an improvised explosive device factory,” the release stated.

The award ceremony also recognized one airman for controlling the casualty evacuation of a wounded Ranger, and a second for managing 31-hours of aircraft on-station time during a mission that resulted in zero friendly casualties and 42 enemies killed in action, according to the 24th Special Operations Wing.

“While these are just a few examples of the courageous acts of [the troop], they demonstrate the team’s fierce commitment to their fellow soldiers, as well as the nation at large,” said the airmen’s group commander, Col. William White, in the release. “To the family, friends, and co-workers of these warriors, I thank you for the endless support you provide these men."

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