AFGHANISTAN: Combat Controller Receives Highest Air Force Award (Update)
Air Force Cross
A U.S. Air Force combat air controller received the nation’s second highest commendation for valor at aPentagon ceremony Thursday (April 12) for exposing himself to intense enemy fire in a remote Afghan village while calling in repeated air strikes and medical evacuations.
Capt. Barry F. Crawford Jr. was the air-ground-link (joint terminal attack controller) for a 100-man force of Afghan commandos and U.S. Army Special Forces during a helicopter insertion into a Taliban-friendly village in Afghanistan’s Laghman Province on May 4, 2010. Crawford will receive the Air Force Cross, the highest valor award given by the Air Force — the equivalent of the Distinguished Service Cross and the Navy Cross — and second only to the Medal of Honor for heroism under fire. He is the fifth airman to receive the Air Force Cross since the 9/11 attacks. Two of those medals were awarded posthumously.
Combat controllers are specially trained, FAA-certified air traffic controllers who parachute or helicopter into enemy territory with ground troops to coordinate close air support, establish assault zones or airfields and supply fire control and reconnaissance. They are also among the first on the ground at the scene of natural disasters, like the 2010 Haitian earthquake, to guide in relief flights when normal air traffic is disrupted.
Crawford told a defense bloggers’ roundtable Wednesday (April 11) that the U.S. troops were acting as mentors, letting the Afghan commandos take the lead in searching for weapons caches and interacting with the locals. It was part of a larger effort spearheading “the first mission into a completely denied area” to friendly forces.
At sunup – an hour after helicopters dropped them off in the village – they began taking hostile fire which picked up in intensity and for the next 12-plus hours the Americans and Afghans were often pinned down by heavy fire. Two Afghan commandos were killed and three others were wounded.
“Recognizing that the wounded Afghan soldiers would die without evacuation to definitive care, Captain Crawford took decisive action and ran out into the open in an effort to guide the [medical evacuation] helicopter to the landing zone,” according to the medal citation. “Once the pilot had eyes on his position, Crawford remained exposed, despite having one of his radio antennas shot off mere inches from his face.”
“Acting without hesitation” according to the citation, “Crawford then bounded across open terrain, engaging enemy positions with his assault rifle and called in AH-64 [Apache attack helicopters] strafing attacks “to defeat the ambush.”
During the battle Crawford, 31, called in scores of helicopter and fighter jet air strikes. As the Afghan and U.S. Special Forces withdrew from the area, they had to cross open ground, exposing themselves to more machine gun and sniper fire. The 2003 Air Force Academy graduate called in help from Apaches firing Hellfire missiles and F-15E Strike Eagles dropping 200- and 500-pound bombs. Thanks to the air support “we were able to depart the area without taking catastrophic losses,” Crawford said.
Crawford was assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at the time of his deployment in Afghanistan. He is now with the 104th Fighter Squadron in the Maryland National Guard and is slated to begin pilot training in June. In about two years, he said, he will be flying A-10 Thunderbolt IIs , better known as Warthogs, with the Maryland Guard – a highly appropriate assignment for a man who knows first hand the importance of close air support.
Entry filed under: Afghanistan, Counter Insurgency, National Security and Defense, Skills and Training, Special Operations. Tags: Afghan commandos, Afghanistan, Air Force, Air Force Cross, Capt. Barry F. Crawford Jr., military aviation.