UNSUNG HEROES: The Airman Who Fought For 6 Hours To Rescue Downed Soldiers

Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christine Griffiths

Airmen don’t get a ton of credit for their exploits in Iraq and Afghanistan, but more than 20 airmen have received the Silver Star Medal, the nation’s third-highest award for gallantry in combat, for their actions in the Global War on Terror.

One of these men is Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Kline, a pararescueman with the 306th Rescue Squadron, who received the award roughly a year ago.

Kline received the medal for actions in Afghanistan in April 2011, when an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter crash-landed in Kapisa province. One pilot was killed and another was wounded, the Associated Press reported at the time.

American assets were reportedly dispatched within 10 minutes to rescue the downed soldiers.

They immediately came under fire from insurgents. Kline was a part of that team. What followed was a daring rescue mission in the midst of a six-hour onslaught from multiple positions. According to a military report, Kline engaged targets from the ground, and also directed airstrikes against targets attempting to outflank his position.

At one point, the military report states, enemy fire ignited fuel near the wreckage, erupting the scene in flames. Kline reportedly “continued to push through enemy fire to an alternate site while still guiding overhead aircraft to adversarial positions by radio.”

In presenting him with the medal, Maj. Gen. Frank Padilla, deputy inspector general of the Air Force, said, “The Silver Star is way up on the continuum of honor. That means you voluntarily risked your life to save others, voluntarily risked your life to expose yourself to great danger in the service of your country. And that is exactly what Zach Kline did that day."

Brian Adam Jones is editor-in-chief of Task & Purpose. A U.S. Marine and Afghanistan veteran, Brian served as a combat journalist in the Marine Corps from 2009-2013. He lives in Harlem and studies political science at Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter @bjones.

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