After the attacks of 9/11, U.S. special operations units were quickly thrust into the fight in Afghanistan. The 75th Ranger Regiment first deployed to Afghanistan in October of 2001. It has been fighting there and in Iraq ever since. A small, specialized unit has been fighting and training alongside them since day one — this unit is the Air Force’s 17th Special Tactics Squadron (STS).

According to an article published on, operators from the 17th STS have deployed over 6,900 days with the 75th.

The 17th STS is comprised of Tactical Air Control Parties (TACPs), Combat Controllers (CCTs), Special Reconnaissance Airmen, Special Tactics Officers, and combat missions support personnel, all of whom have been deployed with Ranger units.

Conveniently, the 17th STS’s headquarters are located right next to the 75th Ranger Regiment’s headquarters and the 3rd Ranger Battalion, in Fort Benning, Georgia. In addition, the 17th has detachments alongside the 1st Ranger Battalion at Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia and at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington with the 2nd Ranger Battalion.

Explaining the role of the 17th’s members, Lt. Col. Travis Deutman, Commander of the 17th STS, said in a release: “Our operators are consistently providing desperately needed close-air support at the most critical times in combat, while also coordinating insertion, extraction, and medical and casualty evacuation lift for critically wounded teammates.”

It is not surprising that the Special Tactics community is the most highly decorated Air Force group since the Vietnam War. The 17th has specifically contributed to that honor, with its members having received 80 combat-related medals.

Among these heroes is TACP Tech Sergeant Cam Kelsch. Last year he was awarded a Silver Star and a Bronze Star with Valor for his actions while on deployment in Afghanistan in 2018.

Attached to the 75th Ranger Regiment, his unit was ambushed on a night raid. Putting himself in harm’s way, he called in danger-close air support from an AC-130 that was overhead. Later in the fight, he was pulling a wounded teammate to safety, when he also became wounded. But, during it all, he continued to call in airstrikes and provide medical attention to a wounded teammate and an Afghan soldier.