By 1st Lt. Amy Cooper , AFSOC Public Affairs
/ Published December 20, 2007
MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wa. -- Twenty five medals were presented to 15 combat controllers and special tactics officers during a ceremony Dec. 18 at McChord Air Force Base, Wa., presided over by the Air Force Special Operations Command commander.
One Silver Star, seven Bronze Stars with Valor, three Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts and 15 Air Force Combat Action Medals were presented to the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron Airmen for their actions during the unit's recent deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.
"These Airmen represent what each of us hopes still resides in America," said Lt. Gen. Donny Wurster, AFSOC commander. "We are fortunate to find young American heroes in waiting who are willing to answer the call when we need them."
The ceremony recognized these "mighty men," as the general called them, who "fight beyond their size" alongside Army and Navy special operations forces.
"Much of what combat controllers do goes unrecognized," said Lt. Col Jeffrey Staha, 22nd STS commander. "But not today."
Combat controllers and special tactics officers, the officer corps equivalent, are highly-trained special operations forces and certified FAA air traffic controllers who deploy undetected into combat and hostile environments to establish assault zones or airfields and then provide air traffic control and fire support.
During the unit's last six-month deployment in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, 22nd STS Airmen performed more than 1,000 combat missions, coordinated the drop of more then 260,000 pounds of ordnance and removed more than 1,500 enemy forces from action, said Colonel Staha.
The Silver Star, the nation's third highest decoration for valor, was presented first to Tech. Sgt. Scott Innis for his actions during a firefight with enemy forces in Afghanistan during spring 2006.
Sergeant Innis was deployed with an Army Special Forces unit to a forward operating base in a heavily contested region of Afghanistan. One day, a team on patrol outside the wire came under enemy fire. Sergeant Innis was able to call in close air support for the team and help them return to the base.
Shortly thereafter, their base came under heavy enemy fire from rocket-propelled grenades, mortar fire, and small-arms and machine gun fire. Risking his own life, Sergeant Innis climbed up a small, wooden observation tower in the middle of the compound, openly exposing himself to the enemy.
Once on the tower, Sergeant Innis lay on his back while the enemy fired small arms and RPGs trying to take him out. For 24 hours, he repeatedly exposed himself to hostile fire as he periodically sat up to observe the enemy's location and pass their coordinates to coalition attack aircraft.
After the aircraft dropped their munitions, Sergeant Innis sat up to observe their impact and relayed the information back to the aircraft, again marking himself as a target. At one point, Sergeant Innis was able to direct fire onto and destroy an area being used by the enemy to store a large weapons cache.
In the middle of the intense firefight, Sergeant Innis also coordinated medical evacuation for several seriously injured American and coalition troops. His actions lead to the destruction of more than 100 enemy forces.
However, the combat controller would not consider himself a hero. He credits his actions to the training he and other combat controllers receive.
"You could have replaced me with any of the other Airmen on the stage with me today," he said. "They would have done the same thing."
Sergeant Innis also received a Bronze Star with valor and an Air Force Combat Action Medal during the ceremony.
Another reluctant hero honored during the ceremony was Tech. Sgt. Jason Dryer, who received a Bronze Star with Valor and a Purple Heart for two separate incidents during a deployment to Afghanistan earlier this year.
Sergeant Dryer received the Purple Heart for wounds he received when the Humvee he and his Army Special Forces team were riding in triggered an improvised explosive device. The group was on their way to educate local Afghani civilians on the Taliban threat in the area and to warn them of the presence of IEDs throughout the countryside when the vehicle was hit.
The blast from the IED blew Sergeant Dryer more than 30 feet from the vehicle, knocking him unconscious, breaking several bones, and severely injuring his shoulder and a knee. About two hours later Sergeant Dryer regained consciousness in the arms of one of his Army teammates to the sound F-15s providing protection from above.
When he came to, Sergeant Innis' first thoughts were those typical of a combat controller.
"My first thought was, 'I've only been here six weeks, I'm not ready to go home yet,'" he said. "I even remember dreaming about it while I was unconscious."
Sergeant Dryer was evacuated to Kandahar Air Base where he was treated in the hospital.
Thanks to the immediate first aid he received in the field and the follow-on care at the hospital, Sergeant Dryer's dreams came true and he rejoined his team at their forward operating base only a few days later.
He was able to serve the remainder of his deployment, and even earned a Bronze Star with Valor for actions during a firefight with Taliban forces a few months after his injuries. During that engagement, Sergeant Dryer as able to accurately direct 40 mm fire from an AC-130 gunship on an enemy target no more than 70 meters from his team's position.
Despite being seriously injured during his last deployment, Sergeant Dryer's focus now is on fully recovering and preparing his body for his next turn in the fight.
"This is the job I've trained a quarter of my life to do," said Sergeant Dryer, who also received an Air Force Combat Action Medal during the ceremony. "I love it. I'm looking forward to deploying and doing it all again."
Their motto "First There" reaffirms his and all combat controllers' commitment to undertaking the most dangerous missions behind enemy lines by leading the way for other forces to follow. For Sergeant Innis, there's no better job than this.
"It's the best special operations job you've never heard of," said Sergeant Innis. "If you like to jump from airplanes and scuba dive and be in the middle of the action, this is where you want to be."