Three Air Force combat air controllers received high honors for valor Wednesday for their actions in calling in airstrikes under fire that helped save the lives of 38 Special Forces troops and Afghan commandos in Afghanistan's Helmand province last September.
Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, presided at the ceremony at Pope Army Airfield in North Carolina for the awards to Senior Airman Dustin Temple, Tech. Sgt. Matthew Grenier and Senior Airman Goddie Goodman.
"Not everyone who serves in this country deserves to be called a hero. You do," Heithold told them,
All three are combat forward air controllers with the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, 24th Special Operations Wing, at Pope.
The Sept. 27 battle took place in the still-contested Sangin district in northern Helmand province when 14 troops from the 7th Special Forces Group, backed by 24 Afghan commandos, went on a mission to disrupt insurgents active in the area.
Within hours, they came under attack by an enemy force estimated at 100.
Temple, of Athens, Ga., received the Air Force Cross, the second highest award for valor next to the Medal of Honor. Temple became one of only seven airmen since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to receive the Air Force Cross for his actions in repeatedly braving enemy fire to gather ammunition while calling in airstrikes.
"Despite overwhelming and accurate enemy machine gun fire, he remained in the open landing zone, providing covering fire while his teammates pulled back," Temple's citation said.
Temple was credited with risking his life to save a Special Forces medic, Sgt. 1st Class Andy Weathers, who had suffered a head wound from an enemy sniper. Temple pulled Weathers from a rooftop and then carried him under fire to a medevac helicopter.
Weathers died three days later at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, but Temple's efforts were credited with allowing his family to have a final visit with him before he succumbed to his wounds.
Goodman, of Bronx, N.Y., received the Silver Star. He was credited with holding a rooftop position under machine gun fire while coordinating airstrikes to beat back the attack.
Grenier, of the Pittsburgh suburb of North Hills, Pa., also received the Silver Star. His citation noted his "extraordinary bravery and complete disregard for his own safety as he and his teammates assaulted an insurgent safe haven."
The Silver Star is the nation's third-highest military honor. Seventy Silver Stars have been awarded to Air Force personnel for courageous actions in Iraq and Afghanistan since the 9/11 attacks.
Only last week, Greiner received the Non-Commissioned Officers Association Vanguard Award, along with a Bronze Star with combat 'V' device, for his actions in coordinating airstrikes in a battle only days before the one for which he received the Silver Star.
At the awards ceremony, Capt. Evan A. Lacenski, who commanded the Special Forces troops in the battle, said he thought at the time that the battle might be his last.
"I think everyone did," Lacenski told the Fayetteville Observer.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org