'Only two of us were not shot or dying': Airman to receive Silver Star for Afghanistan heroism
By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 17, 2019
AUSTIN, Texas — It was 15 minutes from the first gunshot to the arrival of air support.
In that time, as enemy machine gun fire sprayed bullets from 50 meters away, Air Force Technical Sgt. Michael Perolio tended to three wounded soldiers, found a route to safety and called in air and ground support.
“He got me out of quite possibly the worst situation I’ve been in in my entire life,” said Army Capt. William Clark, who was wounded in the ambush.
Perolio’s actions on Jan. 11, 2018, in eastern Afghanistan saved the lives of his comrades and showcased “a devotion to duty” that earned him a Silver Star, which he is scheduled to receive Thursday in a ceremony at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
“Once it happened and once we figured out what was going on, we realized only two of us were not shot or dying,” the 30-year-old Perolio said Wednesday during a phone interview from the Texas base. “I don’t know how but I was not wounded at all. There were bullet holes in my seats and around me but somehow, someway myself and one of the other Green Berets did not get shot.”
Perolio was a member of the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and served as a special forces joint terminal attack controller in Afghanistan from September 2017 to March 2018. In this position, he worked with Army Special Forces to synchronize air power with ground assets.
Operating out of a remote, former compound of the Islamic State, the unit partnered with the Afghan commandos on a major offensive operation targeting the Islamic State in the Mohmand Valley in the Achin district of Nangarhar province.
“We had a very complex problem to solve,” Perolio said of their mission to clear Islamic State fighters from the region.
The conditions were austere, and troops often spent three to four days traveling and sleeping on the ground to work with local militias so they could empower locals to keep enemy combatants out and allow civilians to return, Perolio said.
On the day of the attack, Perolio was part of a five-man team led by Clark that traveled out to meet a militia leader. Upon leaving what they felt was a successful meeting, the force was ambushed.
Heavy machine gun fire exploded from the militia compound. The servicemembers were traveling in an unarmored all-terrain vehicle, and Clark and two other team members were wounded.
“Faced with intense enemy fire, Sergeant Perolio immediately took charge of the element by rendering aid, arming his wounded comrades, and establishing fields of fire,” according to his Silver Star citation.
As Perolio treated the wounded troops, he realized Clark needed to get to the field surgeon immediately. He exposed himself to gunfire to find the safest route out of the situation while relaying the situation through two radios, one for air support and another for ground support.
Perolio then used the still-functional vehicle to get the team to safety while he walked alongside it. Serving as the acting commander, he then directed a series of airstrikes killing 12 enemy combatants and destroying the machine gun’s location. This was done with no further injury to friendly forces or collateral damage to nearby civilians.
As an Air Force addition to the 12-man Army Special Forces detachment, Perolio said it can be difficult to come into that kind of tight-knit unit without feeling like the odd man out. The challenges of that deployment — setting up the outpost, preparing food and cramming together in a small vehicle for days at a time — it brought them all together.
“You build those relationships and those are basically brothers to me from here on out,” Perolio said.
He is now stationed as an instructor for the Special Warfare Assessment and Selection course assigned to the 350th Special Warfare Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
Aside from Clark, who traveled from Colorado to witness Perolio’s award ceremony, the airman will be joined Thursday by two other members of that deployment, most of his family and his wife, Brooke Perolio, who is expecting their first child in December.