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AF leaders honor Air Commandos in Portraits in Courage

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Melanie Holochwost
  • Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs
Two Special Operations teams and four Special Tactics Airmen will be recognized for their courage in a ceremony today at 7:30 p.m. EST in Washington, D.C., which will be broadcasted live here.

The stories of a Special Operations Surgical Team, an AC-130U gunship crew, as well as, Staff Sgts. Richard Hunter, Christopher Lewis, Christopher Brooks, and Lt. Col. William Schroeder are featured in the 10th edition of Portraits in Courage.

In the introduction to the book, Air Force leaders said they take great pride in these everyday heroes.

“Each Airman demonstrated through their actions that our core values of integrity, service and excellence were intrinsic to their very nature,” they said. “We believe these stories will inspire you and demonstrate that your United States Air Force, 70 years after its birth, is still made up of America’s finest.”

These Airmen faced overwhelming danger, exemplifying service before self. They were driven by their sense of mission and a desire to serve and protect lives.

With electricity, clean water, medical supplies, and blood in short supply, the Special Operations Surgical Team (SOST) provided care for more than 750 patients, managed 19 mass casualty events, performed 16 life-saving surgeries, and cared for casualties exposed to chemical weapons in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Each member of the team has been submitted for Bronze Stars for their courageous actions and exemplary performance in saving hundreds of lives during continuous 24-hour medical operations over an eight-week period.

Spooky 43 consisted of 14 AC-130U gunship crewmembers. The aircrew conducted 19 “danger close” attacks, consistently placing lethal fires to within 10 meters of the severely wounded and outgunned friendly force. The firepower exceeded cooling requirements on the 105mm Howitzer cannon, risking potential detonation inside the aircraft. The crew managed the temperature of the Howitzer while continuing the firefight with the 40mm cannon, despite multiple weapon malfunctions. Expert coordination enabled the crew to manually fire rounds to defeat the enemy. In the end, the crew saved 50 lives and was awarded the MacKay Trophy.

Lewis, a combat controller at the 23rd STS, was embedded with a Navy SEAL team. They were ambushed from three locations when they entered enemy-held territory. Over the course of the firefight, Lewis engaged the enemy at close range on three occasions within 100 meters and directed four precise airstrikes. This provided his team crucial air coverage and eliminated more than 20 enemy forces. He has been recommended for the Silver Star Medal for his actions.

Brooks, a Tactical Air Control Party Airman with the 17th Special Tactics Squadron, was conducting a time-sensitive raid in pursuit of a high-value target when he was caught in a complex ambush. He called in dangerously close fires from an AC-130 gunship and directed his assault force to fall back and take cover. He risked his life to mark the hot landing zone so his injured teammates could be evacuated by helicopter. The airpower he directed, with little regard for his personal safety, eliminated enemy forces with no collateral damage.

After an armed gunman entered his building at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Schroeder, a special operations weather officer and commander of the 342nd Training Squadron, acted as a human shield, ordering his first sergeant to run, right before the gunman opened fire. During his struggle with the gunman, he suffered significant defensive wounds prior to succumbing to a fatal shot. His swift, heroic and selfless actions prevented the gunman from shooting anyone else. He was posthumously awarded the Airman’s Medal.

These are just a handful of stories in Portraits in Courage. Read the complete Portraits in Courage book here.