He Was the Sole JTAC Supporting a Green Beret Team. Then Machine-Gun Fire Rained Down

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Air Force Tech. Sgt. Cody Smith (Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force)
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Cody Smith (Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force)

Air Force Tech Sgt. Cody Smith doesn't believe he is "remarkable" or "special" in any way.

Last fall, Smith repeatedly got up off a mortar-ridden battlefield in Afghanistan after being struck three times by enemy fire because he knew his team couldn't finish fighting enemy combatants without him. He will receive the Silver Star this week for his heroism.

"We needed to work as a team, and that took every member on the battlefield to carry out their specific responsibility to ensure the safety of everyone [in order for] everyone to make it out of that firefight," he said during an interview with reporters Wednesday.

Smith, a combat controller with the 26th Special Tactics Squadron, 24th Special Operations Wing, at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, was deployed alongside an Army Special Forces team in support of Operations Resolute Support and Freedom's Sentinel as the sole Joint Terminal Attack Controller calling in airstrikes. He was involved in two intense firefight missions against the Taliban on Oct. 7 and again on Oct. 14, 2018. He earned the award for the Oct. 14 battle.

Related: Airman of the Year Earns Silver Star for Heroism in Afghan Firefights

Smith and the joint Army and Afghan teams were sent out Oct. 7 to disperse Taliban forces that had created a stronghold in the village of Maymana in northwest Afghanistan. En route to the area, the forces pressed on despite roadblocks and dozens of improvised explosive devices hidden within rubble to slow their progress.

They were also met by heavy machine-gun fire during a 10-hour onslaught that required Smith to call in AH-64 Apache helicopters, as well as F-16 Fighting Falcons.

During the second mission on Oct.14, which required the team, which included Green Berets, to move toward Shirin Tagab just due north of Maymana, Smith and his unit were met by an overwhelming force -- nearly 600 Taliban fighters.

During that battle, he suffered three traumatic strikes. First, he took a hit to his body armor. Then, he was hit by the aftershock of a nearby mortar explosion. Finally, a rocket-propelled grenade struck the convoy, including his vehicle.

Smith ended up fighting for five more hours, during which he tried repeatedly to reach an Afghan team member who had been struck in the hip and was pinned down by a barrage of gunfire.

"I knew that having the ability to communicate with our aircraft and to deliver airstrikes was paramount ... in our ability to maneuver through this ambush," he said. "I think the biggest thing for me was knowing that the team was relying on me and I was relying on the team to carry out their responsibilities in the same manner."

Smith said he looks back at the experience as something that should highlight the special tactics community as a whole, not him as an individual.

"[We have] the ability to be force multipliers in the deployed environment," he said Wednesday. "I know there have been so many people before me and around me, and teammates who do incredible things each and every time they step outside the wire. So for me, the most unique thing has been building the awareness around what special tactics does in the community."

Smith, an Iowa native, said he's scheduled to deploy again in the near future, but continues to be motivated by the impact Air Force Special Operations Command airmen bring to the fight.

Smith was also named the "2019 Airman of the Year" by Air Force Times.

"I lean on my faith and understand that God had a specific purpose for me, and that was to be a combat controller. And what has driven me since then is the challenge and the reward of being a special tactics airman," he said. "Nothing truly feels heroic. Nothing feels spectacular. Still until this day, I don't feel like I did anything more than my job on the battlefield."

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 oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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