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JBLM airmen receive awards, including Silver Star, for heroic actions in Afghanistan

Tech Sgt. Matthew McKenna receives Silver and Bronze Star for ground combat heroics

Six airmen were honored for their single-minded focus in combat in Afghanistan during a ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Aug. 18. Photo credit: Richard Baker

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Doctors presently call the event, talked about by Buddhists and Taoists for centuries, single-minded focus - a person's ability to discard everything outside the present task. Six airmen were honored for their single-minded focus in combat in Afghanistan during a ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Aug. 18. The airmen, Tech. Sgt. Matthew McKenna, Staff Sgt. James McKinley Sparks, Tech. Sgt. Bridger Dawn Morris, Tech. Sgt. Tyler G. Britton, Tech. Sgt. Joseph Luera and Senior Airman Douglas Perry, performed their duties in combat by coordinating air strikes against the enemy.

Serving with the 22nd Expeditionary Special Tactics Squadron as a combat control craftsman in Afghanistan McKenna controlled 431 aircraft during 23 ground combat operations resulting in 67 enemies killed and 26 captured. During one operation, insurgents ambushed his unit. McKenna proceeded to carry out his mission by locating the positions of the enemy and calling in attack helicopters and AC-120 gunships to silence the enemy. On another assignment he coordinated airstrikes to break an attack against friendly forces. He was awarded the Silver and the Bronze Star for his actions.

Receiving the Bronze Star, Sparks, serving as combat controller in Afghanistan from April 17 to Oct. 1, 2012, was influential in the prosecution of more than 26 combat missions. He helped disrupt and destroy enemy safe havens through the use of 142 different fixed and rotary wing aircraft. On 13 different enemy engagements he directed aircraft resulting in 14 enemies killed and three wounded. He also directed the aircraft of missions in five key leader engagements to develop trust with the local populations.

Serving in Afghanistan between July 30, 2013 and Jan. 17, 2014, Morris received the Bronze Star for his involvement in 31 ground combat operations. He directed 207 aircraft and called in 22 artillery missions. Morris was also wounded in action when shrapnel from an RPG hit him as he sought a better observation point to more effectively complete his mission. His actions resulted in 23 enemy killed and eight wounded for which he was awarded the Bronze Star.

Luera received the Bronze Star and Air Force Action Combat Medal for his work as a terminal attack controller in a force of 120 Army Special Forces and Afghan Commandos. He controlled 350 close air attack aircraft accounting for 10 enemy killed. Coming under enemy machine gun fire Luera returned fire while managing to continue his mission by passing along information of enemy positions and directing four low angle 20 millimeter attacks. In this action he adjusted fire resulting in six enemy killed.

Perry was awarded the Air Force Combat Action Medal. The medal is awarded to persons for actively participating in combat while under direct and hostile fire while operating outside the defended perimeter or physically engaging hostile forces with direct and lethal fire.

Assigned to a combined Army Special Forces, Navy Sea Air Land and an Afghan Commando assault force consisting of 120 personnel, Britton controlled 85 close air support aircraft and directed eight helicopter assaults to clear enemy safe heavens. During one three-day battle, when coalition forces sustained several deaths, Britton continuously called in fire support. On several occasions he helped extract wounded teammates. For his exemplary leadership and devotion to duty he was awarded the Bronze Star.

All the medal winners serve with the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron. The squadron is responsible for training, equipping, and employing combat control personnel and support personnel. They often work with units from other branches of the service. Their quick reaction forces help establish expeditionary assault zones, control airspace and assist with personal recoveries.

Lt. Gen. Bradley A. Heithold spoke with enthusiasm and pride about the recipients, the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron, and the military in general calling the people who serve the best one percent of Americans.

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