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Special Tactics Airman honored for heroism: “Courage under fire"

U.S. Air Force Special Tactics combat controllers establish security while setting up a landing strip in an austere environment during an exercise at an undisclosed location. Combat controllers are the Air Force’s ground special operations forces who integrate air and ground to provide intelligence, precision strikes, assault zones, drop zones and air traffic control in hostile and austere environments.

U.S. Air Force Special Tactics combat controllers establish security while setting up a landing strip in an austere environment during an exercise at an undisclosed location. Combat controllers are the Air Force’s ground special operations forces who integrate air and ground to provide intelligence, precision strikes, assault zones, drop zones and air traffic control in hostile and austere environments. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Robertson/Released)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. --

The Air Force has selected Tech. Sgt. Matthew J. Greiner, Special Tactics combat controller from the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, 24th Special Operations Wing, as the national Non Commissioned Officer Association Vanguard Award recipient for heroic actions while deployed with an Army Special Forces unit to Afghanistan in September 2014.

Greiner continued to perform his job as a combat controller, despite grievous injuries to his head and body, calling in life-saving close air support and medevacs for his special operations team while injured.

He will represent the Air Force in a formal NCOA Vanguard banquet, July 16, where service members from all five branches will be recognized. This is the second year in a row a Special Tactics Airman from the 21 STS will receive this honor.

NCOA annually sponsors the Vanguard Award to recognize enlisted members from each military service who performed a heroic act, on or off duty, resulting in the saving of life or the prevention of serious injury, according to the NCOA’s announcement. The act must be a voluntary action initiated by the nominee and not a result of directions or orders.

“Tech. Sergeant Greiner is a superb example of the incredible competence and character within the Special Tactics community,” Col. Matthew Davidson, 24th Special Operations Wing commander, said. “His actions in the face of danger showcase how Special Tactics Airmen are trained and ready to bring air power to bear, any time and any place. This award is a testament to who he is as an individual, and brings credit to all Air Force Airmen.”

On Sept. 21, 2014, Greiner and his Special Forces team were conducting a joint clearing operation in a known insurgent safe haven in the volatile Helmand province, Afghanistan.

The team was ambushed by insurgents within 150 meters of Greiner’s position. A 40-millimeter enemy grenade exploded within five feet of his position, severely injuring Greiner and the team’s interpreter. The team’s medic immediately retrieved Greiner and dragged him into cover and began applying multiple bandages to control his bleeding while requesting an urgent medevac.

The ground force commander attempted to call in emergency close air support procedures to repel the enemy advance, and while doing so, heard Greiner on the radio. Confused, he turned to confirm Greiner’s status. He observed Greiner on the litter receiving medical aid. Greiner had a radio and shrapnel peppered map in one hand, and a fentanyl lollipop in the other. He proceeded to control multiple aircraft to provide CAS for 38 minutes and neutralize the enemy threat, protecting his team and his own medevac helicopter from enemy fire.

For his actions on that day, Greiner was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor.

"Tech. Sergeant Greiner truly epitomizes the amazing skill, proficiency and courage of Special Tactics Airmen in battle,” Lt. Col. Jason Self, 21st Special Tactics Squadron commander, said. “Completely disregarding wounds suffered from an enemy grenade, he continued to provide crucial air support to protect his teammates. That's courage and perseverance under fire."

Greiner will receive the Silver Star for actions later taken on Sept. 28-30 in a 48-hour battle in the Helmand River Valley, only seven days after medevac and five days after release from the Kandahar hospital. The Silver Star is the third highest medal a military service member can receive, below the Air Force Cross and Medal of Honor.

According to Self, the 21 STS is the most highly decorated squadron in Air Force history since Vietnam War. Greiner’s actions contribute to a legacy of honor in the Special Tactics community, which has six Air Force Cross, more than 650 Bronze Stars with Valor, and 105 Purple Hearts since 9/11.

Combat controllers are the Air Force’s ground special operations forces who integrate air and ground to provide intelligence, precision strikes, assault zones, drop zones and air traffic control in hostile and austere environments.