The Air Force on Friday will award Master Sgt. John Grimesey, the flight chief of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Field, North Carolina, the Silver Star for his heroism during a 2013 battle in Afghanistan.
Grimesey will also receive a Bronze Star with Valor device for his quick action during a separate 2017 ambush in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, the Air Force said in a release.
During the battle, then-Senior Airman Grimesey and his team of Army Special Forces were conducting a clearing operation with Afghan partner forces, according to the Silver Star citation. The citation did not say where in Afghanistan this battle took place.
The Afghans got cut off from the Americans and were attacked by Taliban fighters. One of the Afghan partners came up to Grimesey and the team’s intelligence sergeant, who were in the nearby village, and told them that part of the Afghan unit — including his commander, who was described in the citation as “highly regarded” — were trapped in a Taliban-controlled compound.
The Special Forces team split up to try to outmaneuver the Taliban and rescue the Afghans. Grimesey led a small team 60 meters toward that compound, positioning himself and his team near the entrance.
Grimesey peered inside the compound’s courtyard, and saw the Afghan commander was dead.
A few moments later, a Taliban fighter looked over the wall, saw them and opened fire from five meters away. Bullets struck the wall next to Grimesey’s head and between his legs, the citation said.
Grimesey leaned back and returned fire, killing the enemy fighter. Just then, a rocket-propelled grenade detonated on the other side of the wall where Grimesey was standing, knocking him down and destroying one of his radios.
Though he had a severe concussion, Grimesey found an injured Special Forces soldier and dragged him 25 feet away from enemy fire.
Having found cover, Grimesey began shooting back, while simultaneously calling in multiple F-16 and AC-130 airstrikes.
He then took part in a mission to recover the dead Afghan commander, the citation said, and killed an enemy fighter who was trying to flank them. He also identified and engaged eight enemy fighters maneuvering on friendly positions.
Grimesey and his team killed 31 enemy fighters, recovered the body of the Afghan commander, and saved many allied Afghan and American lives, the citation said.
“By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Airman Grimesey has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force,” the citation said.
During the ambush of July 20 and 21, 2017, Grimesey — by then a technical sergeant — was serving as a joint terminal attack controller attached to a combined joint special operations task force, consisting of 107 Special Forces soldiers and Afghan commandos.
The task force was clearing a valley in Nangarhar province. About a half hour after Grimesey and his assault force left an observation post, enemy forces opened fire with machine gun, sniper and small arms fire.
Grimesey coordinated 155mm and 120mm artillery fire onto enemy positions to suppress their fire, allowing his element to keep clearing the valley.
The enemy fighters reached a tree line, and launched an ambush from 35 meters away, the citation said. Grimesey called in fire from F-16s and an AC-130U to take out several enemy positions.
When some friendly forces in the task force started running out of supplies, Grimesey grabbed a case of water and ammunition and ran up the ridgeline to resupply them. He then moved 150 meters further up the ridgeline to meet up with his teammates, overlooking the tree line.
With that elevated view, Grimesey began spotting and taking out pockets of enemy fighters. But their snipers saw him, too, and their rounds struck inches away from Grimesey. He contacted another controller who helped out with more suppressing fire, and allowed Grimesey to make his way out of the line of fire.
Hours of fighting ensued. At about 4:30 the next morning, enemy fighters launched another ambush with RPGs, machine guns and small arms fire.
The valley was cloudy, limiting the visibility of aircraft above, so Grimesey called in target coordinates for them. He even steered in a 500-pound bomb within 90 meters of his position, and called in requests for medical help for injured forces, the citation said.
The citation said that Grimesey ultimately controlled 57 aircraft that day and directed 65 air-to-ground strikes, including 34 danger-close strikes. The citation said that 40 enemy were killed, and 26 of their key fighting positions were destroyed.
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.