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McChord combat controllers receive medals

by 1st Lt. Amy Cooper
Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs

12/21/2007 - MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wa. (AFPN)  -- Twenty-five medals were presented to 15 combat controllers and special tactics officers by the Air Force Special Operations Command commander during a Dec. 18 ceremony at McChord Air Force Base.

Lt. Gen. Donald C. Wurster presented a Silver Star, seven Bronze Stars with Valor, three Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts and 15 Air Force Combat Action Medals 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," General Wurster said. "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, the 22nd STS commander. "But not today."

Combat controllers and special tactics officers, the officer corps equivalent, are highly-trained special operations forces and certified Federal Aviation Administration 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 Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation 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, Colonel Staha said.

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 said 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.

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