A U.S. Air Force combat controller will receive the nation's third highest award for valor this week for playing an essential role in an intense firefight mission against the Taliban in Afghanistan last year.
Tech. Sgt. Cody Smith, an airman with the 26th Special Tactics Squadron, 24th Special Operations Wing at Air Force Special Operations Command, will receive the Silver Star at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, on Nov. 22, the service announced Monday.
AFSOC spokeswoman 1st Lt. Alejandra Fontalvo said the award is for his actions in an Oct. 14, 2018, firefight alongside an Army special forces team in support of the Resolute Support mission and Operation Freedom's Sentinel in Afghanistan.
Smith was also named the "2019 Airman of the Year" by Air Force Times. As part of the award, the paper interviewed Smith and detailed his actions.
Serving as the sole joint terminal attack controller, or JTAC, during a two-week mission, Smith and the joint Army and Afghan teams were sent out to disperse Taliban forces that had created a stronghold in the Maymana village in northwest Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2018.
En route to the area, the forces, which included Green Berets, lacked aerial cover due to poor weather conditions, but pressed on despite roadblocks and dozens of improvised explosive devices hidden within rubble along the path to slow their progress, according to Air Force Times.
The groups were immediately met with machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades when they got to the village.
Smith called in nearby AH-64 Apache helicopters, as well as F-16 Fighting Falcons that dropped "multiple precision guided 500-pound bombs engaging as close as 90 meters away," Air Force officials said.
The firefight went on for nearly 10 hours.
Exactly one week later, pushing forward to Shirin Tagab just due north of Maymana, Smith and the teams were met by an overwhelming force -- nearly 600 Taliban fighters amassing on the village's southern flank. The fighters once again set up roadblocks and IEDs to slow the U.S. troops' convoy before another fierce battle broke out -- this time with mortars.
Smith told Air Force Times the scene turned to chaos as dozens of civilians ran up to the troops for help to save their children wounded in the firefight.
Smith tried to get medical aid all while protecting the convoy. First hit in his body armor, Smith kept firing.
Mortars rained down, and one exploded two meters away from his position, resulting in a severe concussion. When Smith awoke, he declined medical attention and fought for five more hours, Air Force Times reported, before an RPG hit his vehicle.
For a second time, he turned medics away to keep fighting, the paper said.
Smith called in 11 danger-close strikes amid the pandemonium during that Oct. 14 mission, resulting in 195 enemy fighters killed and 18 fighting positions destroyed. He aided in saving American and Afghan lives, and even helped medevac a wounded team member, Air Force Times said.
"[He] remained with his team for the 14-hour vehicle movement back to friendly lines to ensure their safety," the Air Force said Monday.
The service has awarded 11 Air Force Crosses and 48 Silver Star Medals to Special Tactics airmen. Last year, President Donald Trump posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, also a combat controller, and promoted Chapman to master sergeant.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to clarify the award was presented for Smith's actions in the Oct. 14 battle.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.