Pope Field, N.C. -- When the critical moment came there was courage.
There was courage from an Airman who moved into the line of fire to retrieve bodies of fallen Afghan commandos.
One Airman risked sniper fire to call in air support and another Airman continued to fight despite shrapnel wounds from a hand grenade.
Three Air Force Special Operations Command combat controllers from the 21st Special Tactics Squadron were recognized for actions in deployed locations during a medals ceremony at Pope Field, N.C., Sept. 25.
Capt. Blake Luttrell earned the Silver Star. Staff Sgt. Daniel Resendez earned the Bronze Star with Valor, and Staff Sgt. Jordan Killam received the Purple Heart.
"These decorations were earned years in advance through long physical, mental and technical training pipelines; across experiences from previous deployments and from lessons passed on by the men who bore the standards before you," said Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, the AFSOC commander .
Lutrell was presented the Silver Star, the nation's third highest combat military decoration, for gallantry in action against an enemy of the U.S. in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan, January 2012.
When his clearing operation team came under intense fire from insurgents in a cave compound, two Afghan commandos were shot. Lutrell recovered the casualties while directing air power against the enemy.
After a medical evacuation, the team medic was critically wounded while protecting his teammates and women and children near the enemy stronghold.
Luttrell responded by throwing a smoke grenade into the caves the enemy was firing from. He moved in front of the cave to pull the medic to a location where another medevac helicopter landed to extract the medic from the fight.
Resendez received the Bronze Star with Valor, the nation's fourth highest combat military decoration, for heroism in action against an enemy of the U.S. in Nuristan province, Afghanistan, May 2011.
As the joint terminal attack controller for an Army special forces and Afghan commando team, Resendez controlled close air support to eliminate insurgents firing on the clearing operation.
Resendez controlled the release of a 500-pound bomb in response to heavy mortar, machine gun, sniper and small-arms fire.
Resendez exposed himself to sniper fire, which missed his head by two feet, to gain target information crucial to destroying an enemy position. He controlled danger-close strafe runs on the enemy and marked an extraction zone for coalition wounded and casualities.
Killam was presented the Purple Heart, the nation's oldest military authorization, for shrapnel wounds incurred from an enemy hand grenade.
Though these quiet professionals may shirk the limelight, there is value in recognizing these men up front, special tactics leaders said. Medals ceremonies not only recognize courageous actions but provide an example for the younger generation of secial tactics Airmen.
They also provide an opportunity for families to see what their son, father or nephew do on a routine basis.
"Our men signed up to do the mission," Col. Robert Armfield, the 24th Special Operations Wing commander. "They love to do the mission and go downrange. But the families here are their real source of strength, and we thank them for coming."
Lt. Col. Spencer Cocanour, the commander of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, said he is proud to lead a group of men who consistently exceed standards in training and downrange.
Combat controllers complete a two-year pipeline as a minimum standard to enter their unit, Cocanour said. From that point, it takes about another year to earn the joint terminal attack control qualification which enables them to control close air support.
"In essence, these guys are training for three years just to go to the fight," Cocanour said. "Every day they have to prove themselves. These guys met the standards, exceeded the standards and continue to excel. And you see their work ethic being displayed right here when they're being decorated."
The single most decorated career field in the Air Force, special tactics has amassed five Air Force Crosses, 30 Silver Stars, 550 Bronze Stars and 97 Purple Hearts.