POPE ARMY AIRFIELD, NC (1st Lt. Cheesman) – Master Sgt. Thomas Case, a tactical air control party Airman in the 18th Air Support Operations Group here, received his second Silver Star medal Nov. 13, 2014, for heroic actions during a 2009 deployment to Afghanistan.
The Silver Star medal is the U.S. military’s third highest military decoration for valor. It is presented for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States. There have been 67 Silver Stars presented to Airmen for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Maj. Gen. H.D. Polumbo Jr., Ninth Air Force commander, presided over the ceremony, making Case the only TACP in the Air Force to receive two Silver Stars.
“Master Sgt. Case answered his Nation’s call and defended his country with his life. He is the embodiment of our legacy of valor and will always be part of our proud heritage,” Polumbo said of Case’s second Silver Star. “If you look at the Airman’s Creed, there are a couple lines in there that are particularly important to me when you consider Sergeant Case’s actions: ‘Not leaving an Airman behind;’ shielding other troops to keep them alive during a firefight…that’s our Airman’s Creed. He epitomizes our warrior ethos and is the ‘Wingman, Leader and Warrior’ our Airmen want to follow.”
For Case, it’s not a matter of another medal. In his eyes, he has done nothing more than what is asked of him.
“It’s recognition for doing your job,” Case said. “You wake up, you get the mission and you go do it.”
He joined an elite group as the third Airman and the seventh U.S. military member to receive two Silver Stars since Sept. 11, 2001.
During his 2009 deployment, Case was embedded with a U.S. Army Ranger unit. Inserted by helicopter onto the high mountains in Afghanistan the night of June 17, Case and his team of Ranger special operations forces were to capture or kill enemy combatants and to destroy their mountain camps.
After climbing up nearly 1,000 feet of mountainous terrain, carrying heavy equipment, body armor and weaponry, Case realized they were off route, and using the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, he redirected the team.
When they took enemy fire from higher ground, Case remained exposed to enemy fire to ensure he knew the enemy’s position for an air strike.
Despite the wires on his radio being seriously damaged, making it nearly impossible to communicate with the aircraft, Case troubleshot the issue while machine gun rounds hit the ground and trees one meter from him. Once ensuring the enemy’s position was communicated correctly, he called in dangerously close air support from an AC-130 gunship.
Throughout the night’s mission, Case stood up multiple times while under fire to ensure the safety of his team members, whether to provide them cover or to make sure the rounds from the aircraft hit enemy positions.
During the battle, while communicating with multiple aircraft overhead and returning fire with his M-4 rifle, he spotted two enemy fighters bounding down the mountain toward his ground force commander. The TACP stepped forward to protect the commander from gunfire and eliminated the threat.
“Even at that time, I was a little bit older than most of the guys,” said Case, a senior NCO with 18 years of service. “So, I’m a little paternal. It was automatic for me to step in front of the commander.”
When the enemy repositioned themselves to higher terrain and began throwing grenades down the mountain slope, even after six more dangerously close air strikes on the enemies, Case realized he needed to have eyes on the enemy position. While under direct fire, he climbed 50 meters up a 60-degree incline with near-zero visibility from the dust to join the lead fire team. He fixed his radio and directed four AC-130 air strikes, and then threw a grenade to eliminate incoming insurgents just seven meters away.
At the time of his gallant actions, he was assigned to the 17th ASOS, now the 17th Special Tactics Squadron, at Fort Benning, Ga.
Special Tactics TACP Airmen deploy with special operations forces to integrate air combat power and surface fires into the ground scheme of maneuver, enabling dynamic, synergistic, and lethal firepower on the battlefield. Special Tactics TACP support all three Ranger battalions, the 75th Ranger Regiment’s Reconnaissance Company, U.S. Army Special Forces Operational Detachment A teams, U.S. Navy SEAL Team platoons, and other special mission units.
TACPs perform all air-to-ground integration, surface-to-surface fire integration (artillery), rotary wing and fixed wing air combat support, naval gunfire, electronic warfare such as jamming and intelligence.