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Combat controller receives Silver Star for 13-hour Afghan firefight

Tech. Sgt. Matthew McKenna salutes Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold after being awarded the Silver Star during the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron awards ceremony Aug. 18, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

An airman with the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star on Monday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for directing air and ground strikes while he was behind enemy lines in Afghanistan.

Tech. Sgt. Matthew McKenna, a combat controller, received the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest combat military decoration, for his actions during a 13-hour firefight in Afghanistan in 2013.

McKenna and his team found themselves outnumbered with the enemy closing in on their position from higher ground, according to an Air Force statement.

McKenna coordinated airstrikes on 10 insurgents, preventing them from completing an ambush of his team.

“At one point, he discovered his team was running out of ammunition and coordinated an aerial resupply at two locations placing desperately needed munitions within 50 feet of the endangered service members,” the statement said.

Despite pleas from his teammates to take cover, McKenna rushed into the “kill zone,” exposing himself to heavy fire in order to control airstrikes that were within about 600 yards of him, the statement said.

The airstrikes gave the team a chance to move up the mountain for an emergency pickup.

“On several occasions, with no regard for his personal safety, Sgt. McKenna moved from cover, exposing himself to withering machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire to locate friendly elements trapped by enemy fire,” the Silver Star citation said.

“His actions secured the survival of his team against a challenging enemy, allowing them to beat back three counter-attacks contributing to 103 enemies killed in action before withdrawing to safety,” the Air Force statement said.

McKenna was also awarded the Bronze Star for actions throughout the entire deployment to Afghanistan, during which he controlled 431 aircraft during 23 ground combat operations, which led to the capture of 26 enemy insurgents and 67 enemy fighters killed in action, the statement said.

McKenna was the fourth member of the 22nd STS to receive the Silver Star for operations conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Four other airman with the 22nd STS were also awarded the Bronze Star during the ceremony Monday: Staff Sgt. James Sparks, Tech. Sgt. Bridger Morris, Tech. Sgt. Tyler Britton and Tech. Sgt. Joseph Luera.

Luera, along with Staff Sgt. Douglas Perry, also received the Air Force Combat Action medal.

olson.wyatt@stripes.com

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