(N.C.) Observer|by Drew Brooks
a moment on Oct. 5, 2009, Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Gutierrez thought
he might die in Afghanistan.
Gutierrez and a team
of Green Berets from the 7th
Special Forces Group were pinned inside a building in Herat province,
outnumbered by Taliban fighters and without an escape route.
As a Combat
Controller, it was Gutierrez's job to call
in and direct air support. But Gutierrez could barely talk.
A gunshot wound to
his chest had collapsed a lung while
narrowly missing his heart. The Special Forces team leader also was
injuries, Gutierrez kept fighting, leveling
his M-4 rifle toward enemy fighters while refusing to relinquish his
He had to, he said.
Otherwise, he'd be a burden to the
Green Berets around him.
"It never is about
oneself; it is always about the others first, then you last," said
Gutierrez, who at the time was assigned to Pope Air Force Base's 21st
Special Tactics Squadron. "I had a second to think about not making it.
After that, I told myself that I was going to get up and fight. I had
an unborn child to see and my wife and family to come home to."
actions that day,
Gutierrez will be awarded the Air Force Cross this fall.
award, the highest an
Airman can receive outside the Medal of Honor, is approved by the
spokeswoman for Air Force
Special Operations Command said the medal is expected to be announced
today by Gen. Norton Schwartz, chief of staff of the Air Force, during
the Air Force Association Convention.
will receive the
cross in late October during a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Fla., where
he is currently assigned, the spokeswoman said.
team medic treated
his injuries and inflated his collapsed lung, Gutierrez called in three
strafing runs from an A-10 Warthog, obliterating the enemy and allowing
the team to make it out alive.
refused to give up on
that soil," Gutierrez said. "If I did, I would be a burden to my team
and that was unacceptable. So I just drove on."
strafing runs were so
close -- enemy fighters were estimated to be only 30 feet away -- that
Gutierrez's eardrums burst.
battle, Sgt. Gutierrez's valorous actions, at great risk to his own
life, helped save the lives of his teammates and dealt a crushing blow
to the regional Taliban network," says a citation that will accompany
Gutierrez's medal. "Through his extraordinary heroism, superb
airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Sgt. Gutierrez
reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air
battle for which
Gutierrez is being recognized came during a high-risk nighttime raid to
capture the Taliban's second-in-command for the region, according to
the citation, which was released ahead of today's announcement.
said he paid
little attention to his injuries, crediting his training for helping
him concentrate on his duties and the Special Forces medic for saving
main focus was to
eliminate the threat because the situation and problem was not about
me, it was about making sure that my team would be covered and safe,"
he said. "He was one of the best medics I have ever worked with, and I
had the utmost confidence in him."
31, will be the
second living Air Force Special Operations Soldier to receive the Air
Force Cross and one of only five total, according to Air Force Special
medal itself, which
dates to 1964, has been awarded fewer than 200 times.
joined the Air
Force in March 2002, just months after being added to a waiting list at
a recruiter's office after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
tried to enlist the day
after the attacks, Gutierrez said, but recruiting stations were closed.
said he became a
Combat Controller because he wanted to make "as much impact against the
enemy as possible."
September 2009 until
April, Gutierrez was based with Pope's 21st Special Tactics Squadron.
had seen combat on
several prior deployments, but he had never been seriously injured
before the Oct. 5, 2009, battle, he said.
addition to the bullet
wound, collapsed lung and ruptured eardrums, Gutierrez broke two ribs
during the attack.
months after the battle
included multiple blood infections, three blood transfusions and seven
two years after the
battle in Herat, Gutierrez is stationed at Hurlburt Field, Fla., where
he serves as an Air Force Special Operations training instructor.
this year, he told Air
Magazine that he was about 98 percent recovered but still had
limited movement in one arm.
Gutierrez is close to the new home of the 7th Special Forces Group,
which moved from Fort Bragg to Eglin Air Force Base this year.
said he still has
a close bond with members of the Special Forces team that he helped
never worked with
them before," he said, "but they brought me into their team as if I was
one of them. They treated me as an asset."
The President of
the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742,
United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to
Staff Sergeant Robert Gutierrez, Jr., United States Air Force, for
extraordinary heroism in military operations against an armed enemy of
the United States in Heart Province, Afghanistan, on 5 October 2009. On
that date, while assigned as a Combat Controller to an Army Special
Forces Detachment, Sergeant Gutierrez and his team conducted a
high-risk nighttime raid to capture the number two Taliban leader in
the region. During the initial assault, the team was attacked with a
barrage of rifle and heavy machine-gun fire from a numerically superior
and determined enemy force. Sergeant Gutierrez was shot in the chest,
his team leader was shot in the leg, and the ten-man element was pinned
down in a building with no escape route. In great pain and confronting
the very real possibility that he would die, Sergeant Gutierrez seized
the initiative and refused to relinquish his duties as joint terminal
attack controller. Under intense fire, he engaged Taliban fighters with
his M-4 rifle and brought airpower to bear, controlling three "danger
close" A-10 strafing runs with exceptional precision against enemy
forces just 30 feet away. After the first A-10 attack, the team medic
performed a needle decompression to re-inflate Sergeant Gutierrez's
collapsed lung, allowing him to direct the next two strafe runs which
decimated the enemy force and allowed the team to escape the kill zone
without additional casualties. Throughout the four-hour battle,
Sergeant Gutierrez's valorous actions, at great risk to his own life,
helped save the lives of his teammates and dealt a crushing blow to the
regional Taliban network. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb
airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Sergeant
Gutierrez reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United
States Air Force.
Presents AF Cross, Silver Star
Air Force News by
FIELD, Fla. -- Two Air Force Special Operations Command Combat
Controllers were presented military decorations here Oct. 27 by the Air
Force chief of staff for exhibiting extraordinary heroism in combat.
Staff Sgt. Robert Gutierrez Jr. was presented the Air
Force Cross and Tech. Sgt. Ismael Villegas was presented the Silver
Star by Gen. Norton Schwartz in a joint ceremony. The Air Force Cross
is the service's highest award and is second only to the Medal of
Honor. The Silver Star is awarded for valor, to include risk of life
during engagement with the enemy.
Both Airmen received their awards for gallant actions
during combat operations in 2009 that directly contributed to saving
the lives of their teammates and decimating enemy forces. Gutierrez and
Villegas were both assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, Pope
Field, N.C., when they deployed in support of Operation Enduring
Freedom in 2009, although the two medals are not related to the same
operation. Freedom Hangar was a sea of berets as more than 1,000
gathered to watch Schwartz present the Airmen their awards.
credited the two Combat Controllers for not only being courageous, but
for also being humble in recognition.
"With the modesty that is characteristic of the quiet
professional, these two joint terminal attack controllers would hardly
hesitate to claim that, during the incidents for which they are being
decorated today, they were merely performing as they were trained,"
Schwartz said. "And they are accepting the honors on behalf of the
entire team that worked with them."
Gutierrez and Villegas attribute their exceptional
performance on the battlefield to training they received at AFSOC.
"You don't have a lot of time to think about yourself,"
Villegas said. "Your training allows you to do your job so you can
overcome any obstacle and ultimately bring brothers on the battlefield
Gutierrez, now an instructor at the Special Tactics
Training Squadron located here, is the second living recipient of the
Air Force Cross. Like Gutierrez, the last five recipients of the medal
have all been AFSOC Airmen. Gutierrez accepted the Air Force Cross on
behalf of all of his fellow Airmen in combat.
"It is for every Airman who is fighting," he said. "This
is a representation of them and their sacrifice. I just get the honor
of wearing (the medal) for them."
Gutierrez received the Air Force Cross for actions
during a four-hour battle in Herat Province, Afghanistan, in October
2009. The team was ambushed during a high-risk night raid to capture
the number two Taliban leader in the region. The team leader was shot
in the leg, and the remaining ten-man team was trapped in a building
with no escape route. Assigned as the joint terminal attack controller
to an Army Special Forces detachment, Gutierrez's job was to call in
air support for his teammates.
During the firefight, he was shot in the chest and
suffered a collapsed lung. Still, Gutierrez continued to return fire
while calling in precision strafing runs from an A-10 Thunderbolt II
nearby. Though bleeding out and struggling to inhale enough oxygen to
breathe, let alone speak into his radio, death was not on his mind, he
"Your time is in
front of you. You're not thinking of
that," he said. "I was thinking, 'I am going to do everything I can to
get the mission done before I bleed out.'"
first strafing run, the team medic
re-inflated Gutierrez's lung with a needle decompression, which allowed
him to direct two more strafing runs within 30 feet of enemy forces,
decimating the enemy and allowing the team to escape.
of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz presented the Air Force
Cross—the service’s second highest award for valor
in combat—to SSgt. Robert Gutierrez for his heroic actions in
Afghanistan in October 2009, during a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Fla.,
Oct. 27, 2011. Gutierrez suffered a bullet wound, two collapsed lungs,
and a busted ear drum, but still managed to successfully call in
multiple "danger close" air strikes against a determined insurgent
force. Here, Gutierrez (left) poses with Army Sgt. 1st Class Mike
Jones, 7th Special Forces Group medic, who saved Gutierrez's life twice
during that 2009 mission. See story below
For Villegas, learning he would receive the Silver Star
came as a surprise to the Del Rio, Texas, native.
"I didn't expect this. I was told I was nominated, and
it was an honor. But to receive it ... it's the biggest honor I can
have," he said. "This is for my guys. They put their lives on the line
each day. I'm taking this on behalf of all of those guys out there."
In September 2009, Villegas was clearing a road of
improvised explosive devices near Bagh Khosak, Afghanistan, when his
team was ambushed. Villegas ran 200 feet across an open minefield to
achieve a better position from which he could return fire with his
personal weapon while calling in air support. As the only JTAC assigned
to an Army Special Forces team, Villegas directed precision firepower
from artillery, as well as fixed- and rotary-wing assets, to kill 32
enemy insurgents during the 16-hour firefight and save the lives of his
While there were many heroes in the crowd wearing the
Air Force uniform, Schwartz also pointed out the unsung family members
who sacrifice for their Airman so they may serve their country.
"Your quiet, understated sacrifice gives deep personal
meaning to your loved ones' service," Schwartz said to the families of
Gutierrez and Villegas. "You have my personal thanks and the
appreciation of a grateful nation, and certainly the appreciation of
the U.S. Air Force." Demetria Saucedo, Villegas' mother, said it is
days like these that make the sacrifice worthwhile. "It was a lot of
sleepless nights while he was gone, but today is a good day," Saucedo
said. "I am so proud of my son."
My Air Force friend, my Army
by Maj Kristi Beckman Air Force Special Operations Command
10/31/2011 - Hurlburt
-- Army Sergeant First Class Michael Jones travelled alongside Staff
Sgt. Robert Gutierrez from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas to Hurlburt
Field, Fla., as they marched 812 miles together with 16 other Airmen in
memory of 17 fallen special tactics Airmen.
a 7th Special Forces Group Airborne medic, was invited to participate
in the 2011 Tim Davis Memorial March as a colleague, but more than
that, as a friend of the special tactics community. Two years ago he
saved the life of Combat Controller Gutierrez, during a mission in
was assigned to the same Army unit as Jones. As a Combat Controller
Gutierrez said he has worked with Marine Special Operation Teams and
Navy Special Warfare Units, but he is usually assigned to the Army.
primarily handle the austere airfield control, airfield seizures and
fire support , but right now we're covering down on both ends
We cover down as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller attached
to Special Forces, Joint Special Operations Task Force teams and
Coalition; as well as playing that role of communications, the
air-to-ground link on the battlefield."
Air Force recognized the vital role the JTAC plays for the ground
units. In his 2011 Vector, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Norton
Schwartz, stated the Air Force increased JTAC support to 33 additional
combat maneuver companies.
echoes that support.
very important for an Army Special Forces unit to have a Combat
Controller," Jones said. "We bring the gun ammo and the Air Force
brings the gun ammo and the bombs. If it's close quarters,
room-to-room, we've got that. But if its something we can't handle, the
JTAC's got aircraft right at the end of his fingers. The CCTs are part
of our family now and we would give our life for them."
said it's about the team and everyone relies on each other. He said the
teamwork required in combat is huge.
have to depend on each other," Gutierrez said. "In reality, they are
the only Americans that I know and at that point you're closer than
family. You're in a foreign land fighting a foreign force in their
hometown, on their ground and it's them against you."
the 2009 mission, Gutierrez was in charge of air cover for his Army
unit. Calling Jones his battle buddy, Gutierrez said Jones was never
far from his side. They got to know each other very well.
objective, I would be next to the Ground Forces Commander and Jones on
every patrol," Gutierrez said. "I always knew where he was and he
always knew where I was whether it was a combat reconnaissance patrol,
key leader engagement or a direct action mission, I knew exactly where
during the night of that 2009 mission, it was a different story.
Gutierrez' and Jones' unit entered a village at night on foot to track
down a high-priority individual.
was the fog of war," Jones said. "Everything happened so fast. The team
quickly became surrounded and the enemy had the tactical advantage
because they were shooting at us from less than fifteen feet away on
was inside a building returning fire to the rooftops through an opening
and suddenly got shot. Jones looked over and saw Gutierrez.
said, 'Mike!' and I looked and you could tell something was wrong,"
Jones said. "I ran over, grabbed him and pulled him inside and he spit
out a mouth full of blood. Literally the first thought that came to my
head was that he's got a baby girl coming in December."
tells Gutierrez to let him know once his breathing is hard. He took
Gutierrez' kit and radio off but left his headset on as Gutierrez was
still talking to aircraft. About 30 minutes into it he said he was
having trouble catching his breath back and Jones administered a needle
decompression, which allowed the removal of fluid or air from the
they had to move out of there. Gutierrez called in for an A-10 strafing
run and while the team was running out of the building, Jones jumped on
Gutierrez to cover him.
jumped on me when the runs were going off," Gutierrez said. "He covered
me with his own body to make sure I was ok, because I didn't have any
ran about 1.5 kilometers to the landing zone for the medevac.
said Gutierrez was talking to the gunships and the helicopters and
calling in his own medevac. But once they got to the landing zone,
Gutierrez told Jones he was having trouble breathing again and Jones
had to give him another needle decompression. Gutierrez
said he felt confident that Jones would take good care of him.
completely trusted him," Gutierrez said. "I knew he was good and he
knew what he was talking about. He was dedicated and loved his job.
When someone loves their job that much and wants to do it that well, I
had the utmost confidence in him."
Gutierrez was medevac'd out that night, the team continued the mission
the next day. They were determined to get their man. That boosted
Gutierrez' morale ten-fold as he lay in the hospital bed recovering.
was in Walter Reed when they told me," Gutierrez said. It made my
morale skyrocket because they went back out and got the number one guy
we were looking for and they did an awesome job. Honestly, you're
sitting in your bed and you've got five tubes coming out of your body,
and you hear about this, you talk about being happy and wanting to get
up and get out of there and carry on."
is why Gutierrez and Jones are participating in the Memorial March and
honoring the 17 fallen Airmen.
the same," Jones said. The guys that we've lost, they wouldn't want us
to stop, they wouldn't want us to not keep going. If the same thing
happened to me, I wouldn't want these guys to sit and think about it or
anything like that. I would want them to keep going and just do their
thanks Jones every chance he gets for saving his life and although
Gutierrez says Jones is probably tired of hearing it, Jones says he's
Rob here and just being friends with him and his family, that's the
most reward I can ever ask for," Jones said. "I get to see his daughter
and know that she has her dad with her.
Gutierrez was awarded the Air Force Cross Oct. 27, the highest award
the Air Force gives, for his actions during that mission which saved
countless lives. He will be the first to tell you that he wouldn't have
been able to accomplish that mission - or march to honor others - if it
wasn't for Jones, who saved his life twice that night.