Air Force Operator to Receive Silver, Bronze Star for Same Deployment

Tech. Sgt. Cam Kelsch, a tactical air control party operator assigned to the 17th Special Tactics Squadron, 24th Special Operations Wing. (U.S. Air Force)
Tech. Sgt. Cam Kelsch, a tactical air control party operator assigned to the 17th Special Tactics Squadron, 24th Special Operations Wing. (U.S. Air Force)

The U.S. Air Force will award a special tactics airman two medals for valor for separate missions in Afghanistan in which he risked his life to save others.

Tech. Sgt. Cam Kelsch, a tactical air control party operator assigned to the 17th Special Tactics Squadron, 24th Special Operations Wing, will receive the Silver Star and Bronze Star with "V" device in a ceremony at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Pooler, Georgia, on April 9, Air Force Special Operations Command announced Tuesday.

Kelsch, 29, from Ventura, California, exposed himself to direct enemy fire while accompanying members of the U.S. Army's 75th Ranger Regiment during a night raid on April 25, 2018, in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel/Resolute Support in Afghanistan. The team was reportedly sent out to neutralize a high-value target, but the service did not disclose where the raid took place, or how long the battle lasted.

Kelsch, the joint terminal attack controller for the mission, began calling in airstrikes as his team took direct enemy fire.

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"While receiving accurate fires from the enemy and with no regard for his own personal safety, Kelsch exposed himself to danger in order to control airstrikes from an AC-130 gunship using 40mm air to ground munitions [within] 35-40 meters of his team's position," according to the Silver Star citation.

During the attack, Kelsch was wounded as he ran from cover to drag another U.S. service member to safety, according to the citation. Nevertheless, he "continued to control danger close strikes to neutralize all remaining threats to the assault force," the citation states.

He called in AC-130 105mm cannon strikes on a heavy machine gun position just 70 meters away, all while looking after his wounded teammate and a wounded Afghanistan coalition service member, according to the citation.

Kelsch used an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to identify additional defensive enemy positions and take them out with concurrent strikes, it added.

For the final counterattack, Kelsch "coordinated an attack with precision-guided 500 lb. bombs from two F-16s and 105mm munitions from an AC-130," the citation states.

During a March 8 ceremony, the Army presented Master Sgt. Phillip Paquette, of the 75th Ranger Regiment, a Silver Star for the same mission. In addition to suppressing enemy fire, Paquette's actions allowed his team to "safely maneuver the unit to the helicopter landing zone for exfiltration," according to a news release. During that same ceremony, 14 Rangers from 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, received awards for valor, and three were presented Purple Heart medals for 22 deployments "in support of the Global War on Terrorism," the release states.

Kelsch will also receive the Bronze Star with "V" device for actions on another mission during the same deployment. In that incident, Kelsch willingly stepped between the enemy and his ground force commander, who was injured during an ambush, according to the citation.

"While still being engaged by enemy personnel in immediate proximity, Sergeant Kelsch eliminated the threat and allowed for his ground force commander to regain his bearing," the Bronze Star citation states.

Kelsch has been in the Air Force since 2008, said 24th Special Operations Wing spokeswoman 1st Lt. Jaclyn N. Pienkowski.

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

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