Airman to Receive Silver Star Upgrade for Afghanistan Heroics

Chief Master Sgt. Michael R. West, assigned to the 720th Operational Support Squadron, will receive the Silver Star, the military's third-highest valor award, during a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Florida, on Dec. 15, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Chief Master Sgt. Michael R. West, assigned to the 720th Operational Support Squadron, will receive the Silver Star, the military's third-highest valor award, during a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Florida, on Dec. 15, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Air Force plans to upgrade a combat controller's Bronze Star Medal to a Silver Star for exemplary action while engaged in combat in Afghanistan in 2006.

Chief Master Sgt. Michael R. West, assigned to the 720th Operational Support Squadron, will receive the Silver Star, the military's third-highest valor award, during a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Florida, on Dec. 15, Air Force Special Operations Command said in a release.

West was originally awarded the Bronze Star in 2007.

"West will be honored for his role in securing the safety of 51 Special Forces Soldiers and 33 coalition partners during a five-day offensive operation in support of Operation Medusa," the release said.

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"Over the period of five days and two climactic battles, West delivered more than 24,000 pounds of precision ordnance credited with more than 500 enemy killed in action," AFSOC said.

His upgrade comes as a result of a comprehensive Defense Department-wide review of awards from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even though the Air Force announced eight valor upgrades in totality this year, new evidence shed light on West's case, 24th Special Operations Wing spokeswoman 1st Lt. Jaclyn Pienkowski told Military.com.

"With time, additional statements were provided that more completely captured Chief West's actions during Operation Medusa," Pienkowski said. "Once the package was complete, the Air Force considered totality of his actions and deemed the appropriate award to be a Silver Star Medal."

"During this process, the Air Force was committed to properly recognizing our service members for their service, actions and sacrifices, and that those valorous service members were recognized at the appropriate level. It was important to ensure the award package was complete when it was reviewed," she said.

West, a master sergeant at the time, was involved in two dynamic battles over five days within the Panjwai Village, according to his official award citation.

West was a Joint Terminal Attack Controller supporting Special Forces teams tasked "to conduct offensive operations in support of Operation Medusa," a Canadian-led mission during the second battle of Panjwaii in the Zhari and Panjwaii districts of Kandahar Province against Taliban fighters, the citation said.

While exposed to direct enemy fire, West's "mastery of air to ground operations" allowed for the NATO teams to employ a strategic advantage "with over 88 fixed and rotary wing attack; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms; and medical evacuation assets in the area," the citation said.

That included bombers, fighters and MQ-1 Predator drones "to eliminate the enemy threat and allow the coalition forces to safely seize their target location," according to West's "Portraits in Courage" story. He was featured in the program in 2007.

West called in roughly "130 close air support missions," the Portraits in Courage release said.

His actions "on numerous occasions either prevented friendly forces from being overrun, or directly enabled friendly forces to break contact and regroup while minimizing casualties," the citation said.

Twelve Canadian soldiers lost their lives over the course of the battle, with dozens more wounded, according to figures from Veterans Affairs Canada; A British reconnaissance plane also crashed in Panjwai during the offensive, killing all 14 on board.

At the time it had been "the most significant land battle ever undertaken by NATO," according to Canada's CBC News.

Canada regards Operation Medusa as one of its most successful operations. Earlier this year, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan exaggerated he was the grand "architect" of the operation, but later retracted his comments. Sajjan served in Afghanistan at the time as a liaison between Canadian commanders and local Afghan leaders, according to the Global News.

Whether or not West's valor elevation may be the last medals upgrade for this year remains unclear.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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