Aside from the adrenaline rush, mental and physical damage, and heartache, war sometimes offers moments of utter incredulity. Moments when warfighters seem invincible to the withering enemy fire; moments when a single warrior turns the tide of a battle by himself.
Technical Sergeant Daniel Keller, an Air Force Combat Controller (CCT) assigned to the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron (123rd STS), is such a warrior. His heroics during a 15-hour engagement with Islamic State (ISIS) fighters in Afghanistan on August 2017, earned him the Air Force Cross, which is second only to the Medal of Honor.
According to the award citation, Tech. Sgt Keller is directly responsible for the survival of 130 members of the joint special operations assault force, which included by the end of the day 31 wounded in action. Moreover, his actions assisted in the killing of an estimated 50 enemy fighters.
General David Goldfein, the Air Force Chief of Staff, said during the award ceremony that “only 10 Airmen since 9/11 have received this honor. We never know when Airmen like Dan will risk everything for a fellow teammate in a really bad situation, but that’s exactly what he did. As your chief, it gives me great strength to know that the special tactics community will always make the impossible seem effortlessly possible. This is a great day for our Air Force, and may God bless this nation and those like Tech. Sgt. Keller who always have, and always will, defend her.”
Despite having suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) from a huge Improvised Explosive Device (IED), which was responsible for the death of four members of the coalition force and the wounding of 31 more, Tech Sgt. Keller orchestrated critical air support missions while continuously engaging the enemy, who was 150 metres away, with rifle fire. Subsequently, Tech Sgt. Keller helped move 13 critical casualties to a helicopter landing zone while under murderous enemy fire. The MEDEVAC choppers, however, were unable to pinpoint the emergency landing zone. Tech Sgt Keller once more rose to the occasion and sprinted to center of the landing zone and guided the choppers in. He did all this under continuous enemy fire.
As if these actions weren’t enough, Tech Sgt. Keller was pivotal in the successful withdrawal of the rest of the force by ground vehicles. And only after reaching their combat outpost did he accept a MEDEVAC.
“I’d like to say these events and actions are remarkable, because I truly feel that to be the case, but I doubt you’d agree, Dan,” added General Goldfein. “I think you’d probably say you were just doing your job — doing your job like so many are today who are still taking the fight to our enemies in faraway lands. Congratulations, Dan.”
On behalf of the enlisted leadership, Chief Master Sergeant Aaron May, the senior enlisted manager for the 123rd STS, said that “you see it every day here. You see him always training harder and looking forward. When he got there, he was ready. When it came time to do that job, he was ready. Dan’s been a top performer the whole time, and I’m happy that’s he’s being recognized. His appetite to just go down range and do what our mission is — it’s really unique. His work ethic, his dedication and his foresight to see what’s coming — Dan’s constantly pushing forward.”
The award ceremony took place at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base.