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My Air Force friend, my Army protector

  • Published
  • By Maj Kristi Beckman
  • Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs
Army Sergeant First Class Michael Jones travelled alongside Staff Sgt. Robert Gutierrez from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas to Hurlburt Field, Fla., as they marched 812 miles together with 16 other Airmen in memory of 17 fallen special tactics Airmen.

Jones, a 7th Special Forces Group Airborne medic, was invited to participate in the 2011 Tim Davis Memorial March as a colleague, but more than that, as a friend of the special tactics community. Two years ago he saved the life of combat controller Gutierrez, during a mission in Afghanistan.

Gutierrez was assigned to the same Army unit as Jones. As a combat controller Gutierrez said he has worked with Marine Special Operation Teams and Navy Special Warfare Units, but he is usually assigned to the Army.

"We primarily handle the austere airfield control, airfield seizures and fire support , but right now we're covering down on both ends downrange. We cover down as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller attached to Special Forces, Joint Special Operations Task Force teams and Coalition; as well as playing that role of communications, the air-to-ground link on the battlefield."

The Air Force recognized the vital role the JTAC plays for the ground units. In his 2011 Vector, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz, stated the Air Force increased JTAC support to 33 additional combat maneuver companies.

Jones echoes that support.

"It's very important for an Army Special Forces unit to have a combat controller," Jones said. "We bring the gun ammo and the Air Force brings the gun ammo and the bombs. If it's close quarters, room-to-room, we've got that. But if its something we can't handle, the JTAC's got aircraft right at the end of his fingers. The CCTs are part of our family now and we would give our life for them."

Gutierrez said it's about the team and everyone relies on each other. He said the teamwork required in combat is huge.

"You have to depend on each other," Gutierrez said. "In reality, they are the only Americans that I know and at that point you're closer than family. You're in a foreign land fighting a foreign force in their hometown, on their ground and it's them against you."

For the 2009 mission, Gutierrez was in charge of air cover for his Army unit. Calling Jones his battle buddy, Gutierrez said Jones was never far from his side. They got to know each other very well.

"On objective, I would be next to the Ground Forces Commander and Jones on every patrol," Gutierrez said. "I always knew where he was and he always knew where I was whether it was a combat reconnaissance patrol, key leader engagement or a direct action mission, I knew exactly where he was."

But during the night of that 2009 mission, it was a different story. Gutierrez' and Jones' unit entered a village at night on foot to track down a high-priority individual.

"It was the fog of war," Jones said. "Everything happened so fast. The team quickly became surrounded and the enemy had the tactical advantage because they were shooting at us from less than fifteen feet away on the rooftops."

Gutierrez was inside a building returning fire to the rooftops through an opening and suddenly got shot. Jones looked over and saw Gutierrez.

"He said, 'Mike!' and I looked and you could tell something was wrong," Jones said. "I ran over, grabbed him and pulled him inside and he spit out a mouth full of blood. Literally the first thought that came to my head was that he's got a baby girl coming in December."

Jones tells Gutierrez to let him know once his breathing is hard. He took Gutierrez' kit and radio off but left his headset on as Gutierrez was still talking to aircraft. About 30 minutes into it he said he was having trouble catching his breath back and Jones administered a needle decompression, which allowed the removal of fluid or air from the chest.

Then they had to move out of there. Gutierrez called in for an A-10 strafing run and while the team was running out of the building, Jones jumped on Gutierrez to cover him.

"He jumped on me when the runs were going off," Gutierrez said. "He covered me with his own body to make sure I was ok, because I didn't have any armor on."

They ran about 1.5 kilometers to the landing zone for the medevac.

Jones said Gutierrez was talking to the gunships and the helicopters and calling in his own medevac. But once they got to the landing zone, Gutierrez told Jones he was having trouble breathing again and Jones had to give him another needle decompression.
Gutierrez said he felt confident that Jones would take good care of him.

"I completely trusted him," Gutierrez said. "I knew he was good and he knew what he was talking about. He was dedicated and loved his job. When someone loves their job that much and wants to do it that well, I had the utmost confidence in him."

Although Gutierrez was medevac'd out that night, the team continued the mission the next day. They were determined to get their man. That boosted Gutierrez' morale ten-fold as he lay in the hospital bed recovering.

"I was in Walter Reed when they told me," Gutierrez said. It made my morale skyrocket because they went back out and got the number one guy we were looking for and they did an awesome job. Honestly, you're sitting in your bed and you've got five tubes coming out of your body, and you hear about this, you talk about being happy and wanting to get up and get out of there and carry on."

Resilience is why Gutierrez and Jones are participating in the Memorial March and honoring the 17 fallen Airmen.

"We're the same," Jones said. The guys that we've lost, they wouldn't want us to stop, they wouldn't want us to not keep going. If the same thing happened to me, I wouldn't want these guys to sit and think about it or anything like that. I would want them to keep going and just do their job."

Gutierrez thanks Jones every chance he gets for saving his life and although Gutierrez says Jones is probably tired of hearing it, Jones says he's not.

"Having Rob here and just being friends with him and his family, that's the most reward I can ever ask for," Jones said. "I get to see his daughter and know that she has her dad with her.

Gutierrez was awarded the Air Force Cross Oct. 27, the highest award the Air Force gives, for his actions during that mission which saved countless lives.  He will be the first to tell you that he wouldn't have been able to accomplish that mission - or march to honor others - if it wasn't for Jones, who saved his life twice that night.