On July 24, 2020, members of the Air Force’s 21st Special Tactics Squadron, along with their friends and family, joined together for a special awards ceremony.
The squadron’s most recent deployment was in 2019. It involved members deploying to three different locations and fighting against six different extremist organizations. Due to the actions of the squadron’s members, 90 awards were presented at the ceremony.
According to a comprehensive article, written by DVIDS, the Ceremony Speaker and former 21st Special Tactics Squadron commanding officer, Lt. Col. Randall Harvey, said in his speech:
“The majority of you would rather receive a decoration in your team room, your office or at home maybe, and not in public, but it’s important. It’s important for you because you need to understand that we know what you do and what you sacrifice. It’s important for your families because they need to know your stories. It’s important for Americans out there to know what other Americans are doing on their behalf. Finally, it’s important for those who have come before us and those who are no longer with us. We owe it to them to be here and be standing strong.”
Members of the squadron who deployed to Afghanistan were recognized for their involvement in Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. The operators planned and executed infiltration, exfiltration, air support, and Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions within the region. Members of the squadron participated in 241 direct action raids, 235 firefights, and called in 622 airstrikes. By taking part in these high-risk operations, 21st Special Tactics Squadron operators incapacitated 1,880 enemy personnel. As a result of these actions, 12 Bronze Stars and 4 Bronze Stars with Valor were awarded.
Lt. Col. Harvey acknowledged the actions of these members by saying, “In many ways, it’s the greatest adventure to put yourself on the line… and step up when it counts the most. For some of you, that line was a razor’s edge between life and death.”
Operators from the squadron also participated in Operation Inherent Resolve. These members played a pivotal role by calling in fire, which subsequently led thousands of combatants to surrender. They worked with the United Nations and the Department of Defense to help over 40,000 internally displaced people. As a result of these actions, three Bronze Stars and several Air Force and Army commendation medals were awarded.
The last portion of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, comprised of 12 operators, went to Africa to work with nations in the Northwestern and Eastern regions of the continent, to conduct Foreign Internal Defense (FID) missions. Specifically, members worked with the Kenyan military to strengthen their air to ground capabilities, in an effort to defeat al-Shabaab fighters. The training program was extremely successful and there are already plans being made to conduct future FID missions in the country.
Air Force Special Tactics Squadrons have very much been the backbone in the fight against terrorism. They have been involved in almost every major combat operation since 9/11.
Since the Vietnam War, they have been the most highly decorated unit within the Air Force.