Air Force recognizes five combat controllers

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Five combat controllers accepted the Air Force-level special operator awards Nov. 9 at the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron.

The recipients were Maj. Michael Martin, 24th STS, Pope Air Force Base, N.C., Capt. James Alexander, Master Sgt. Douglas Fenske and Senior Airman Fred Baker, 21st STS, Pope AFB and Tech. Sgt. Bradley Reilly, 23rd STS. The 23rd STS won the Air Force Special Operations Command Squadron of the Year award.

Lt. Gen. Michael Wooley, Air Force Special Operations Command commander presented the awards to Captain Alexander and Sergeant Reilly at a standing-room only ceremony.

"These men have done incredible work -- things you wouldn't think possible," said General Wooley. "They look at problem sets differently than you and I. They connect great airpower with great ground power. I'm not worthy to be here with these heroes."

The Air Force Special Tactics Field Grade Officer of the Year award was presented to Major Martin. He was the first-ever Air Force officer to be hand-picked by an U.S. Army two-star general to serve as Operation Iraqi Freedom special operations forces task force operations director. He planned and directed 116 direct-action ground combat missions in Iraq.

Captain Alexander received the Air Force Special Tactics Company Grade Officer of the Year award. He was in charge of the 21st Expeditionary Special Tactics Squadron for 143 days in which he led his teams on patrol day and night through the mountains of Afghanistan tracking terrorists. He managed continuous special tactics support to the U.S. Department of State assignments supporting the new president of Afghanistan.

The Air Force Combat Control Senior NCO of the Year honor went to Sergeant Fenske. He directed 13 combat controllers that were attached to a U.S. Army Special Forces team during 210 combat patrols. He coordinated a special tactics response team within six hours of the earthquake in Pakistan, assessing and controlling five separate airfields to save more than 500 lives.

Sergeant Reilly collected the Air Force Combat Control NCO of the Year award for his actions in a firefight in Afghanistan. When his team came under enemy fire, Sergeant Reilly requested and controlled close air support while engaging the enemy, providing life-saving first aid to him and the U.S. Army Special Forces team leader. Sergeant Reilly also arranged resupply missions for 60 days for his Special Forces team at their forward operating base.

Airman Baker was bestowed the Air Force Combat Control Airman of the Year award. While deployed for more than 150 days, Airman Baker completed 40 presence patrols. While he was engaged in 12 missions, he requested and controlled fixed and rotary wing air support that delivered fire support and air evacuations. Airman Baker directed the delivery of humanitarian relief supplies to impoverished schools which were reopening their doors after years of tyrannical oppression.

"I've got a special place in my heart for all Battlefield Airmen," General Wooley said. "I congratulate all of you for a job extremely well done."

General Wooley then presented the Air Force Special Operations Command Squadron of the Year Award to Lt. Col. Eric Ray, 23rd STS commander.

"This is a group of outstanding professionals and they met all challenges, setting them apart from the other AFSOC units," General Wooley said.