News Branch Air Force

Special tactics airmen earn 90 awards for battling terror groups worldwide

'The majority of you would rather receive a decoration in your team room and not in public, but it’s important.'
David Roza Avatar

Members of the Air Force’s 21st Special Tactics Squadron earned over 90 awards for actions against extremist organizations in deployments to countries across the Middle East and Africa in 2019.

“I want to say congratulations on a job well done,” said Lt. Col Randall Harvey, former commander of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, at the award ceremony at the squadron’s base at Pope Field, North Carolina on July 24th. “Thank you for being men and women of action.”

For the unaware, Special Tactics airmen integrate air and ground power for U.S. Special Operations Command. They do everything from setting up dirt airstrips in the middle of nowhere, direct airstrikes and airdrops, rescue injured troops, and even perform surgery right on the battlefield.

The airmen’s list of awards and heroic deeds in 2019 is long, so here is how they break down by the numbers and operation:

Operation Freedom’s Sentinel

In America’s continuing effort to root out extremists and build allies in Afghanistan, Special Tactics airmen served as “primary tactical planners for infiltration, exfiltration, fires, as well as Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance taskings in the execution of 241 direct-action raids during an especially ‘kinetic winter fighting season,’ the Air Force wrote in a press release. 

During that time, the airmen:

  • Engaged in 235 firefights with Taliban and ISIS-K fighters
  • Controlled 4,985 aircraft,
  • which conducted over 622 airstrikes,
  • 235 of which were within ‘danger close range.’
  • “Removed over 1,880 enemy personnel from the battlefield,” though it is unclear whether that means captured, killed, wounded, or all three.
  • Earned 12 Bronze Star Medals
  • and 4 Bronze Star medals with valor

Airmen deployed to Afghanistan also made history by single-handedly securing, establishing, controlling, and commanding a mission support site during a 96-hour mission, the Air Force wrote.

A Bronze Star Medal is presented to an Air Force Special Tactics operator from The 21st Special Tactics Squadron assigned to Pope Field, North Carolina. The squadron held a ceremony July 24, 2020 to watch the presentation of over 90 awards for the squadron’s most recent deployment in 2019, battling six extremist organizations across three areas of responsibility.

Operation Inherent Resolve

In the six-year mission to destroy the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, Special Tactics airmen:

  • Controlled fire support 
  • Worked on 190 joint and coalition missions 
  • Provided food and supplies to over 40,000 refugees 
  • Earned three Bronze Star Medals and several Air Force and Army commendation medals

Northwest and East Africa

Special Tactics airmen in these areas established new partnerships with local militaries to integrate airpower with ground tactics, which are “things no other [special operations force] can do out there,” Harvey said.

Their efforts launched an air-to-ground integration training program for the Kenyan military, which improved their tactics in the fight against Al Shabaab, Harvey added.

Usually, Special Tactics airmen assume the “quiet professional” attitude, Harvey said, but it was time to make an exception.

“The majority of you would rather receive a decoration in your team room, your office or at home maybe, and not in public, but it’s important,” he said. “It’s important for you because you need to understand that we know what you do and what you sacrifice. It’s important for your families because they need to know your stories. It’s important for Americans out there to know what other Americans are doing on their behalf. Finally, it’s important for those who have come before us and those who are no longer with us. We owe it to them to be here and be standing strong.”