Kajaki District, Helmand province, Afghanistan — Sept. 27, 2014
With ammunition dwindling and insurgents closing in, three Air Force combat controllers dodged machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades to call for air support, grab supplies and carry out a critically wounded comrade during a two-day battle in a desolate, dangerous corner of Afghanistan.
For their efforts, the Air Force awarded Senior Airman Dustin Temple the Air Force Cross, second in importance only to the Medal of Honor, and Tech. Sgt. Matthew Greiner and Senior Airman Goodie Goodman the Silver Star. It marks just the second time since the 9/11 terrorist attacks that Air Force airmen have received such decorations for actions in the same battle, according to Air Force officials.
The three special tactics combat controllers, all with 21st Special Tactics Squadron, 720th Special Tactics Group, 24th Special Operations Wing, were embedded with Army Special Forces troops on Sept. 27, 2014, during an air assault in Helmand province in southwest Afghanistan. The airmen, along with about 20 Americans and 60 Afghan commandos, were dropped by helicopter into Helmand’s Kajaki district, one of the deadliest areas of Afghanistan throughout the 13-year war there.
Soon, they came under heavy fire from machine guns, small arms and rocket-propelled grenades from about 100 insurgents, according to the military’s official narrative of the battle.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Weathers was shot in the head and Temple braved gunfire to drag him from a rooftop. When a medical evacuation helicopter arrived, Temple carried Weathers over 100 meters of open terrain as bullets zipped by, and remained there providing covering fire for his teammates while they pulled back.
Weathers was transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he died.
When Temple finally made it back to the compound where his team had holed up, insurgents had gotten within 40 meters. They were heard saying over intercepted communications, “Take the Americans alive.”
Temple called in a “danger close” strafing run by an F-16 to repel the attack, according to the official medal citation.
Quoted in an Air Force news release, Temple said he was simply relying on his training.
“Every combat controller I know has the ability and training to do what it takes,” he said. “I know that any of those guys would have my back in a situation like this.”
At the same time, in another compound, Greiner and Goodman were fighting to save their teams. Under a barrage of gunfire, Goodman secured a rooftop position. At one point bullets lodged in a wall inches from his head, but he was able to call in airstrikes and fire on the insurgents with his rifle.
Greiner braved incoming rounds to coordinate Apache attack helicopters and an AC-130 gunship in strikes that the Army credits with killing 21 insurgents.
As the fight dragged on and supplies ran low, Temple and U.S. commandos ran into the open under fire to reach a resupply helicopter and gather critical ammunition while Greiner coordinated strikes to provide cover.
Over the course of the battle, the three airmen called in 80 airstrikes. Despite the intensity of the fighting, Weathers was the only U.S. or Afghan Army casualty of the battle.
Through their actions, the airmen “turned the tide of the battle with heroism and extraordinary competence,” U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Sean Pybus, deputy commander of Special Operations Command, said at a ceremony honoring the airmen at Pope Army Airfield in May.
“This entire episode of 48 hours is a case study of toughness, teamwork and commitment,” he said.