ARLINGTON, VA – Air Force Capt. Barry Crawford, a Maryland Air National Guard member from the 175th Wing, who fought in and survived a 14-hour firefight in 2010, was presented the Air Force Cross during a ceremony at the Pentagon today.
According to the certificate that is accompanying the Air Force Cross – which is the second highest military award for a member of the Air Force – Crawford earned this honor for “extraordinary heroism in military operations against an armed enemy of the United States,” where he was serving as an active duty Air Force special tactics officer near Laghman province, Afghanistan, May 4, 2010.
At the time of the firefight Crawford was a combat controller – in which he was the air-to-ground communications link – attached to an Army Special Forces Operational Detachment and their Afghan commando unit – the Afghani elite infantry troops much like U.S. Army Rangers.
On that day the group was tasked to participate in a large battle plan in the mountainous provinces just east of Kabul, he said.
After reaching the landing zone Crawford received reports that the enemy were positioning themselves on the high-ground for an attack.
The group started to receive machine gun and sniper fire from about 100 enemy fighters. During the hail of gunfire all around him Crawford “took decisive action to save the lives of three wounded Afghan soldiers and evacuate two Afghan soldiers killed in action,” according to the citation.
At this point Crawford – recognizing that if the injured were not immediately evacuated they would die – ran into the open, surrounded by enemy fire, to ensure the rescue helicopter could find them.
“Fortunately we were able to get them [medically evacuated] and [because of that] they are alive today,” he said.
Throughout the 14-hour event Crawford was able to engage what he called his “muscle memory” from years of training and was able to call in multiple AH-64 Apache helicopter 30mm strafe attacks, F-15E Strike Eagle maneuvers and continue to keep the enemy at bay with his weapon.
With ammunition running low and daylight escaping, the group had to exit the village. To achieve this they had to move about two kilometers over steep terrain. During this time Crawford’s element was ambushed and trapped in the open with enemy fighters – some as close as 150 meters – firing down upon them.
According to the citation, “without regard for his own life … Crawford moved alone across open terrain in the kill zone to locate and engage enemy positions with his assault rifle while directing AH-64 30 mm strafe attacks. Continuing to move the team further over 1.5 kilometers of steep terrain with minimal cover … Crawford again engaged the enemy with his assault rifle while integrating AH-64s and F-15Es in a coordinated air-to-ground attack plan that included strafing runs along with 500 and 2,000 pound bomb and Hellfire missile strikes.”
This was the moment when he felt that no matter how much he trained, it could have been the end.
“There was a point … when the ground force commander made the call that ‘we can’t stay any longer’ … we were almost out of ammo, we needed to get to the exfiltration helicopter landing zone to hopefully get out of there – and we knew were going to have to fight our way out of there,” he said.
At this point Crawford said he had a moment of clarity where his training stopped momentarily and his brain kicked in for a minute.
“We’ve been getting shot at, we’re soaking wet … and before we had to run uphill out of there I definitely thought ‘well, I’m probably going to get shot; get your mind ready … and find a way push through whatever is about to happen and just keep on doing what you’re doing. You’re keeping the enemy at bay, you’re crushing their will to fight,’” he said.
All-in-all throughout the entire 14-hours of the firefight Crawford was able to coordinate more than 33 aircraft and 40 airstrikes.
He attributes his actions that day to his training and the team mentality.
“Everyone that day performed heroically, it was the direst of situations once the enemy fire started it didn’t stop for 14 hours, and we were surrounded by a numerically superior force, Crawford said. “It was a kill-or-be-killed scenario and if everyone didn’t perform how they did – that complete team effort – I wouldn’t here today.”
After returning home Crawford wanted to continue to serve but also live out another dream of his – to become a pilot. He found this opportunity with the Maryland Air National Guard’s 175th Wing.
“I love serving my country, I don’t think there’s anything more honorable than that,” he said. “I was offered the opportunity to attend Undergraduate Pilot Training and become a member of the 104th Fighter Squadron … to fly A-10s.”
He said this is a move that is personal to him since he spent his time on the ground coordinating A-10s sometimes.
“I love close air support – with my prior combat experience … I feel that once I learn to become an A-10 pilot then … I can bring some good to the unit but also to the Maryland Air National Guard … [with my] never quit attitude,” Crawford said. “I hope to bring those attributes and … add to the awesome tradition of the Air National Guard.”