An AFSOC combat controller was awarded the Silver Star Medal for his bravery during a raid with the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan in 2018. Tech Sgt Cam Kelsch, of the 17th Special Tactics Squadron, Hunter Army Airfield, was honored on Tuesday during a ceremony at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Pooler, GA.
Kelsch, according to the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) was awarded the Silver Star and also received a Bronze Star with “V” device for valor for separate action. During that action according to the Air Force, he “willingly stepped between the enemy and his ground force commander, who was injured during an ambush,” and then “eliminated the threat.”
His award ceremony was attended by more than 250 family, friends and U.S. service members which was officiated by Maj. Gen. Vincent Becklund, deputy commander of AFSOC.
During an interview with media held by teleconference last week, Kelsch recounted the story of April 25, 2018, when he accompanied a combined SOF team of Rangers, and Afghan Special Forces into Taliban territory, searching for a high-value target.
During that deployment, the Rangers and their Afghan Special Forces counterparts were very active … and deadly. The Rangers conducted 198 missions on that deployment and killed or captured over 1900 insurgents according to SOCOM.
During this particular mission, the team approached their designated target when a small firefight erupted that was quickly carried by the Rangers and Afghan SF. They found their high-value target, (HVT) but it was then that aircraft overhead gathered intelligence to believe a second HVT was close by.
As they approached the second target moving up a narrow creek bed, the team was in a bad position with steep walls on each side of the creek bed. That is when all hell broke loose. The enemy insurgents were waiting and sprung an ambush using rifles, machine guns, and hand grenades.
One American was hit in the chest and went down right in front of Kelsch as the Air Force commando and the ground force commander were trying to find cover behind some rocks. “It was like a bomb went off,” Kelsch said. “It was so bright and looked like fireballs going off all around me.”
“The fire was so overwhelming, I couldn’t stick my head out,” Kelsch recalled. “Bullets were ricocheting, dirt was being kicked up. I had to get eyes on the target.”
Kelsch left his position of cover and exposed himself to get the circling AC-130 overhead firing on the insurgents. With the enemy only 35 meters away, Kelsch called in 40mm rounds nearly on top of their position. Kelsch in his interview stated that aircrew in the gunship were extremely accurate with their fire, or he and the Rangers wouldn’t have survived.
His Silver Star citation reads: “Minutes later and without regard for personal safety, Sergeant Kelsch willingly exposed himself to effective enemy fire again, by closing with the enemy in order to adjust fire and save the life of a wounded American team-mate by dragging him to safety under fire.”
He and MSG Phillip Paquette, the ground force commander with the Rangers, dragged their wounded comrade back to a safer location. Paquette, who was also awarded a Silver Star was directing the Rangers and Afghans. Kelsch was shot center mass but the round hit one of his magazines in his body armor plate carrier which protected him.
“When you see one of your teammates go down, you do everything to go get them,” Kelsch said. “We looked at each other and saw the opportunity,” he added.
One of the Afghan SF troops was hit and the team was able to extract him from the danger and pull back 100 meters for an extraction. That’s when Kelsch turned the AC-130’s 105mm howitzer on the enemy. Firing danger close, the gunship was pounding the insurgents with precision artillery fire.
Then Kelsch whistled up two F-16s to drop precision-guided 500lb bombs on the insurgents in the target compound until the exfiltration aircraft arrived to whisk the team away.
Kelsch, in a true “quiet professional” manner, said that “I did not think that a fight that big would ensue when we were going after that target,” he said. “It was just another day, another mission.” He added that he was accepting the award for all of his teammates as they were all in that situation.
MG Becklund in his comments said, “What Cam did was nothing short of heroic… the embodiment of an American airman, a true warrior, and a leader.”
Kelsch is the epitome of a professional,” Paquette said, adding “one of his greatest attributes is his dedication to the mission and fellow Rangers.” Paquette and 13 other Rangers were also awarded decorations for that deployment including three with Purple Hearts.
Kelsch in his interview was quick to point out the bravery and patriotism of their Afghan Special Forces counterparts.
“The Afghan partner forces are true patriots for their country,” Kelsch said. “They want their country to be rid of terrorists. They want peace. They’re professional, they’re lethal, they’re highly trained. It was an honor to work with them.”
Photos/Video: US Air Force