Multiple mission participants
“painted a consistent and compelling picture of Captain
Crawford’s technical expertise and exceptional courage under
fire during the day-long battle with the enemy,” said Lt.
Col. Parks Hughes, commander of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron,
Crawford’s home unit at the time. “They credited
his decisive actions with enabling the US ground force and their Afghan
partners to survive and escape an extremely dire situation.”
No one expected
the massive assault that took place on May 4, 2010. Crawford was
assigned to Army Special Forces Operational Det. Alpha, which was
partnered with a group of Afghan infantry trained to mirror US Army
Rangers. The operation was part of a larger scale plan to work with
International Security Assistance Forces in a completely denied area
East of Kabul that had gone a long time without coalition presence.
The US forces
were acting as mentors. The idea was to put an Afghan face on the
operation, which was intended only to be a regional engagement effort.
The soldiers wanted to sweep the area and talk to the village elders.
The area was known to be sympathetic to the Taliban, but the assault
force, which included about 100 US and Afghan personnel, only expected
resistance from about 10 fighters. Unbeknownst to the troops on the
ground, though, the mission had been compromised and insurgents were
holed up in tunnels and caves in the mountains waiting for them.
It turns out the
assault force was ambushed by a highly capable enemy force roughly 10
times what they had anticipated.
As the troops
entered the village, they quickly realized the normal signs of life
were eerily absent. The villagers should have been getting up for their
first prayer. Women, children, and men should have been moving around.
“There was none of that, so our 'spidey senses' picked up and
we knew something wasn’t right,” Crawford told Air
Force Magazine in an interview from Maryland where he is now
assigned to the Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Squadron
Apaches, Air Force F-16s, an AC-130 gunship, and a manned ISR platform
circled overhead passing information to Crawford. Initially, aircrews
could make out about 50 insurgents moving in the mountains, but that
they later saw that number more than doubled. After intercepting an
enemy communication, it was clear the insurgents were preparing to
attack once the sun came up.
first 30 minutes the assault force found the first cache of
weapons--grenades, RPGs, anti-tank mines, and some recoilless rifles
with ammunition. The houses were empty, but were set up like defensive
fighting positions with firing ports built up in the corners. There was
no doubt they had walked in to a Taliban stronghold, said Crawford.
a.m., an element just north of the village started taking fire.
Immediately after, bullets began raining down inside the village.
“One of my teammates referred to it as getting shot at like
fish in a barrel,” said Crawford. “Once the enemy
started firing on us, it didn’t stop for 10-plus hours. . . .
Wherever we moved everyone was constantly under fire. It was like
running the gauntlet, like it was straight out of a movie.”
down with 50-plus pounds of gear, Crawford and his team ran down the
street as rounds struck the ground near their feet and the walls
exploded alongside them.
were certainly lucky that day. A lot of guys had a lot of close
calls,” he said.
weren’t so lucky. The first casualty suffered a gunshot wound
to the face, so one of the medics ran across the open terrain to
provide medical treatment.
it was like dominos. The first guy was wounded, we took another guy, he
was killed in action. A few minutes after that we took another
wounded,” said Crawford. In less than 45 minutes they
suffered five casualties—two killed in action and three more
severely wounded. All were Afghans.
the fighting, Crawford remained in constant communication with the
Apaches, which were strafing the mountainside with 33 mm rounds and
rockets. One of the elements spotted a large boulder, roughly 250 feet
in diameter, that was serving as shelter for a couple of fighting
positions. Crawford called on the F-15E Strike Eagles, which had
replaced the F-16s, to lay down 500-pound and 2,000-pound Joint Direct
The shooting stopped, but only for about 15 minutes, said Crawford.
That’s when they realized the insurgents were maneuvering
through a tunnel system dug high up in the mountains.
A few hours in
to the fight a heavy layer of clouds covered the mountaintops and rain
started pouring down, forcing Crawford to rely heavily on the Apaches.
Two-thirds of the weapons employed during the battle were danger close,
he said. “The professionalism of the Apache’s
[crews] was incredible,” said Crawford. “They were
actually waking people up to come out and putting ad hoc flights
together to support us. If I said I need weapons here, they
didn’t question it...because they knew too many lives were on
still needed to be airlifted out, but the village was too hot with
ground fire, so Crawford held them off. The Pave Hawks went to get gas
and when they came back, he tried to guide them through what he called
“the worst possible conditions.”
The long battle
was starting to take its toll on the men. They had been dodging bullets
all day and they were running out of ammo. The Afghans knew their
buddies were hurt and they knew some had died. They also saw the first
failed attempt to land the medevac. Some of the teammates were pinned
down. It was windy. It was rainy. And, they were out of markings for
the landing zone.
knew it was a dire situation,” said Crawford. He also knew he
had one shot left to get the wounded out, so he came up with a battle
plan to unleash hell on the mountainside.
that the wounded Afghan soldiers would die without evacuation to
definitive care, Captain Crawford took decisive action and ran out into
the open in an effort to guide the helicopter to the landing
zone,” reads his Air Force Cross citation. “Once
the pilot had eyes on his position, Captain Crawford remained exposed,
despite having one of his radio antennas shot off mere inches from his
face, while he vectored in the aircraft to his position.
Crawford then bounded across open terrain, engaged enemy positions with
his assault rifle and called in AH-64 strafe attacks to defeat the
ambush allowing the aid-and-litter teams to move toward the
casualties,” states the citation.
successfully evacuated four of the five casualties despite taking at
least 10 direct hits, but then Crawford had to call them off due to the
overwhelming fire. There was one casualty still on the ground, and he
was in bad shape. As the senior medic dragged him to the landing zone,
he sustained another wound. Without rescue, the Afghan would only have
a few minutes to live, and the HH-60s were out of gas.
communicating with a conventional Army Blackhawk overhead. “I
said, ‘I’m not going to lie, it’s really
nasty down here, but we still have a commando on the ground. He just
got shot again en route to the HLZ and the senior medic is laying on
top of him providing him with medical treatment and trying to block him
from getting hit again,’” said Crawford. The
Blackhawk came in and successfully evacuated the last wounded commando
without taking any direct hits.
The ground force
commander--a US Army captain--called headquarters and requested a quick
reaction force be launched for support. As the team landed a couple
kilometers west of the village, they too immediately came under fire,
so they stayed in place to secure the final landing zone. Crawford
split the air assets to provide them some cover. At this point, there
were more than 160 US and Afghan personnel on the ground in multiple
continued engaging with the Apaches, which were unleashing gun, rocket,
and Hellfire attacks on the mountainside, as the friendly assault force
began the one and a quarter mile trek over steep terrain out of the
village. As they were leaving a small pickup truck carrying about three
insurgents came in firing RPGs. “We engaged the truck and
neutralized the threat,” said Crawford.
The US troops
and Afghan soldiers bounded through streets and alleyways trying to
clear the way out, but the insurgents kept launching ambushes.
“We knew the air was doing an incredible job because at one
point the enemy said they were dying like vegetables. We kind of
laughed about it after the fact because we don’t even know
what that means, but they knew we were moving and we knew they were
going to make one last ditch effort to mass us and move in to the
village. We had to get out of there,” said Crawford.
As they moved
south, another small pickup truck rolled in firing on the troops.
Crawford called in a hellfire attack. After the explosion, the
truck’s fender blew over the small ravine where they were
fighting and landed on the infill HLZ. “It was up close and
personal,” he said.
As they left the
village, Crawford’s element was ambushed from multiple
fighting positions. The enemy was less than 500 feet away, firing from
caves, houses, and a ravine that had been dubbed the “green
zone” because the vegetation made it almost impossible to see
down in there. The men were pinned down in the open, so Crawford
relocated the air assets.
“moved alone across the open terrain in the kill zone to
locate and engage enemy positions with his assault rifle while
directing AH-64 30 mm strafe attacks,” according to the
After roughly 10
hours of constant battle, coalition forces were running out of
ammunition. The men started handing around magazines as they fought
back against the insurgents.
integrated AH-64s and F-15s in a coordinated air-to-ground attack plan
that included strafing runs, Hellfire missiles, 500 and 2,000-pound
bombs allowing the men to successfully evacuate the village without
sustaining any more casualties.
As they finally
reached the landing zone, Crawford kept some air assets over the
village to confuse the enemy, which was plotting its fourth major
ambush of the day, according to more intercepted radio calls.
the course of the 10-hour firefight, Captain Crawford braved effective
and well-prepared enemy force. His selfless actions and expert airpower
employment neutralized a numerically superior enemy force and enabled
friendly elements to exfiltrate the area without massive
casualties,” reads his citation.
Now with the Maryland Air
National Guard, Crawford is waiting on a slot for pilot training. He
hopes to fly A-10s for the Guard.
| Hero ANG Captain to Receive AF Cross Thursday
Sent by SgtMac'sBar Correspondent, Joe Edwards
12 April 2012
||A former Air Force Special Operations Combat Controller is set to receive the Air Force Cross Thursday in a
ceremony at the Pentagon.
Barry Crawford, now a member of the Maryland Air National Guard’s 104th
Fighter Squadron, is being awarded the Air Force’s second-highest medal
for valor for actions two years ago, when his Army Special Forces unit
was ambushed with a group of Afghan commandoes.
the 10 hours of fighting that followed, Crawford called in rotary and
fixed-wing air strikes, medevac helicopters, and repeatedly exposed
himself to fire as he to engage enemy positions and rescue comrades.
one point, according to the medal citation, one of his radio antennas
was shot off just inches from his face as he vectored in a rescue
helicopter for wounded men. All the while, enemy rounds were hitting
the rocks and dirt all around him.
though this is an individual award … everyone [there] exhibited that
day pure acts of heroism,” Crawford told reporters on Wednesday. Not
only the soldiers and Afghan commandos on the ground, he said, but the
helicopter and F-15 pilots who flew the support and rescue missions.
“I’m able to talk to you guys today
[because of] the actions they did in my defense as well as the
commandos. I credit them with all this,” he said.
Crawford, who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2003, said he
hoped as a cadet to go on and become a pilot. Traipsing around
mountains and valleys with Army Special Forces was not the original
plan. But the astronautical engineering major had no aviation
background and competition for the coveted undergraduate pilot training
slots was intense.