Staff Sgt. Richard Hunter, a Special Tactics combat controller with the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the Air Force’s highest medal, the Air Force Cross, for gallantry against an armed enemy of the U.S. in combat.
Hunter was a CCT assigned to a Special Forces A-Team from the 10th SFG (A) in Afghanistan in November 2016 when along with Afghan allies, they were ambushed by a vastly superior numerical force. The troops were taking fire from an arc of 270 degrees and the quick actions of Hunter along with the SF A-team members saved the day.
Finding themselves trapped in the village, and in a dire situation, Hunter and his team withstood an enemy ambush of grenades and machine gun fire, resulting in four friendly force injuries.
Hunter charged forward under enemy fire, leaving cover to drag a wounded teammate back with one hand, while using his free hand to call in suppressive fire through close air support from the Spooky 43 crew overhead.
“At this point, [the team] is dragging [casualties] down the alleyway while still returning fire, and we’re using all of our weapons on the aircraft to destroy fighting positions and buildings … all within about 12 meters of Staff Sgt. Hunter,” said Maj. Alexander Hill, aircraft commander of Spooky 43. “We told Hunter to put his head down, and we fired closer than I think anyone’s ever fired an air-burst round.”
As the Spooky 43 crew received the calls from Hunter on the ground for the firepower necessary to deter the enemy, they were required to exceed cooling requirements on the 105-mm Howitzer cannon, risking potential detonation inside the aircraft. With their expert skill and coordination, the crew was able to support the ground forces with the 40-mm cannon and at times forced to manually fire rounds called on by Hunter to defeat the enemy.
According to Hill, the crew actively fired every weapon available to them for 107 consecutive minutes during the battle.
Hunter received his award from the Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson in a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Florida on October 17. While the actions of Hunter during the battle killed an estimated 26 Taliban and wounded close to the same amount, it was the lives that he saved that Hunter and the troops he fought with will remember. Another version of the story can be read here:
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Photo courtesy US Air Force