Eight Special Operations Airmen were recognized for their valor during a deployment in Afghanistan as part of a 75th Ranger Regiment task force.
The Air Commandos came from the 17th Special Tactics Squadron. In conjunction with the Rangers and other American and Coalition units, they completed 129 direct action raids and 153 kinetic strikes.
The 17th Special Tactics Squadron is mostly comprised of Special Operations TACP Airmen, Air Liaison Officers, and Special Reconnaissance operators, formerly known as Special Operations Weather Technicians (SOWT). Airmen assigned to 17th STS are almost exclusively attached to and provide Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) capabilities to the 75th Ranger Regiment. The main role of a JTAC is to direct airstrikes in support of the ground force.
U.S. Air Force Colonel William White, the commanding officer of the 720th Special Tactics Group, which 17th STS falls under, praised his Airmen in a press statement.
“During one mission, directed by the President of the United States, the force successfully killed the top al-Qaeda leader of the region, a victory commended by the President himself. These cumulative accomplishments pay tribute to the daily operating tempo of the troop as a whole.
The job of JTAC, and to an extent that of a TACP, is quite mentally taxing. They have to have an accurate understanding of the battlefield and spot on situational awareness in order to direct precision airstrikes. And they have got to accomplish that in the middle of combat, with all the fog of war and physical stress that that entails.
Aside from airstrikes, TACP Airmen can direct additional forms of indirect fire such as artillery, naval gunfire, and mortars. Moreover, they can intergrade Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets to ground operations.
“While these are just a few examples of the courageous acts of [the 17th element], they demonstrate the team’s fierce commitment to their fellow soldiers, as well as the nation at large,” added Col. White. “To the family, friends, and co-workers of these warriors, I thank you for the endless support you provide these men. And, to the men of [the troop], I thank you for the stellar work that you do in defense of our great country, and for our inalienable freedoms.”
The eight Airmen received a combined 13 medals for their actions during the near four-month deployment. The decorations were two Bronze Star Medals with Valor, two Purple Heart Medals, one Joint Service Commendation Medal with Valor, seven Air Force Commendation Medals with Combat Device and one Joint Service Achievement Medal with Combat Device.
The 17th STS has been deployed continuously for more than 7,000 days, starting all the way back in October 2001 when the Rangers alongside Delta Force conducted the very first large-scale military operations in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.