AFSOC Airmen Portray Warrior Spirit

  • Published
  • By Aaron Schoenfeld
  • AFSOC Public Affairs
Four AFSOC airmen are among 13 heroes from around the Air Force featured in the new volume of the "Portraits in Courage" publication.

Staff Sgt. Eric Ezell, 20th Special Operations aerial gunner; Capt. John Groves, 20th Special Operations Squadron pilot; Staff Sgt. Kenneth Webb, 15th Special Operations Squadron loadmaster and Master Sgt. Mike West, 720th Operational Support Squadron superintendent of weapons and tactics, all represent Air Force Special Operations Command in the second volume of vignettes.

Each vignette highlights America's Airmen and their distinguished service and actions that have significant scope and impact on the Air Force mission. The vignettes of the four AFSOC Airmen are ones that encompass just that.

Sergeant West, a combat controller with experience in close air support and joint terminal attack control, is credited with actions taken as part of a special forces team operating in Afghanistan in 2006.

As a coalition team near Sergeant West's unit moved toward a strategically important position, they came under heavy fire by enemy forces and lost radio communications. Sergeant West took control of the situation by identifying the friendly forces and calling in close air support to assist the team. He directed several types of aircraft, including bombers, fighters and a Predator UAV to eliminate the enemy threat and allow the coalition forces to safely seize their target location.

Following the fight for the mountain, a week-long battle ensued where Sergeant West and his teammates coordinated multi-national aircraft in the area, allowing critical supply drops, medical evacuations, as well as calling in 130 close air support missions, killing an estimated 750 enemy combatants.

"I'm honored to be in the book," said Sergeant West. "But I won't take the credit. I was on the mountain with another combat controller and a special forces team, who all ensured we could complete the mission."

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley commissioned the book to make sure Airmen like Sergeant West get the credit they deserve. He wanted to create a reminder of the courage and sacrifice American Airmen experience every day.

"This program is a big deal because it allows me to highlight the honor, valor, devotion and selfless sacrifice of America's Airmen," said General Moseley about the project.

The book is a biannual product, with nominations going to Air Force leadership through the major commands. There are several levels of approval for Airmen to make the book.

The other AFSOC Airmen who made the second volume also demonstrated the warrior spirit found throughout the command.

Sergeant Ezell was on his sixth deployment to Iraq and providing cover for an unsecured landing zone during a mission to capture or kill a high-value target. In the midst of the firefight that broke out during their approach, Sergeant Ezell was shot in the head by an accidental discharge inside the helicopter. He maintained his crew position and alerted his crewmembers that he was injured.

After fighting to remain conscious throughout the evacuation flight, Sergeant Ezell walked off the helicopter under his own power. The book further describes the determination shown by Sergeant Ezell during his recovery process.

Two more AFSOC Airmen are included in the book for displaying valiant acts of courage in the face of danger.

As the commander of the second aircraft in a two-ship formation, Captain Groves watched the MH-53 PAVE LOW in front of him go down when hit by enemy fire. The enemy then engaged Captain Groves' aircraft as he made several attempts to rescue the crew of the downed helicopter.

Captain Groves performed evasive maneuvers and steered away from the threat by flying as low as 80 feet among power lines and buildings to avoid further detection. 

The captain then landed in an extremely hostile area with zero illumination to send his crew with several special forces passengers to rescue the downed personnel. Using additional defensive maneuvers, he was able to depart and avoid the enemy fire to save the lives of nine fellow servicemembers.

In another in-flight emergency situation, Sergeant Webb was returning from a re-supply mission in Iraq when the cargo compartment of his C-130 burst into flames. Flying at 20,000 feet with 30 passengers on board, Sergeant Webb responded quickly to ensure the safety of those around him.

Taking action to revive an unconscious passenger by providing rescue breathing, replacing a failed oxygen mask with his own and reviving a second unconscious passenger, Sergeant Webb successfully handled a potentially catastrophic situation.

Despite the book's descriptions that highlight the bravery of these four Airmen, Sergeant West insists nothing can be done alone.

"We all work side by side and can't get anything done without each other. Everyone should be in the book," said Sergeant West. "These are just individual commitments to a group effort."