Airman Who Staved Off Ambush in Afghanistan to Receive Air Force Cross

Staff Sgt. Richard Hunter. (Air Force Photo)
Staff Sgt. Richard Hunter. (Air Force Photo)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- A combat controller who acted heroically by helping stave off an ambush in Afghanistan will receive the Air Force Cross, the head of Air Force Special Operations Command said Tuesday.

Staff Sgt. Richard Hunter, a combat controller, was patrolling with U.S. Army soldiers and Afghan troops in Kunduz Province on Nov. 2, 2016, when they were ambushed by Taliban forces, according to a release by the service.

Hunter acted decisively and repeatedly exposed himself to danger to help save his teammates.

In total, he called in 31 airstrikes from AC-130 gunships and AH-64 Apache helicopters, according to the Air Force. The strikes, some of which landed less than 10 feet away from his own team's positions -- killed 27 enemy fighters.

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"He's intermittently firing his own weapon, protecting others, providing first aid to others, and calling in airstrikes all at the same time," Lt. Gen. Marshall "Brad" Webb, head of Air Force Special Operations Command, said Tuesday during a briefing at the Air Force Association's annual conference outside Washington, D.C.

"It's an extremely heroic mission," Webb added. "I'm very very proud of him ... He's going to be a recipient of the Air Force Cross."

The award is second only to the Medal of Honor for valor in combat.

At the start of the firefight, Hunter identified nearby enemy locations and called in airstrikes that landed so close they pelted his team with dirt, according to an Air Force release about the battle.

The coalition force pressed deeper into the village but became trapped in an alley after running into a locked metal gate, the release states. Enemy forces fired machine guns and grenades at their position, injuring four of his teammates, it states.

"Hunter charged forward under a barrage of enemy fire to shield the wounded with his body while calling in suppressing fire," according to the document.

As the team maneuvered through the village amid heavy smoke, the ground force commander was mortally wounded and the combat controller "again braved enemy fire to protect his wounded teammate," it states.

Hunter helped launch the Quick Reaction Force and casualty evacuation helicopters, then helped to clear nearby buildings, according to the Air Force.

But the refuge wasn't to last -- he heard someone call for help and upon looking over a wall found a seriously injured teammate pinned down and unable to move, the release states.

So the airman "led a fire team back into the kill zone at great risk to their lives to recover their wounded teammate," it states. "During this recovery, he directed air strikes with a radio in one hand while dragging the rescued team member 30 meters to safety with his other hand."

Webb, the AFSOC commander, didn't say when the ceremony for Hunter to receive the Air Force Cross was scheduled to occur.

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

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