Air Force JTAC Awarded Silver Star for Calling Airstrikes Under Fire

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Technical Sgt. Michael Perolio, stands at attention during the playing of the National Anthem during an event in his honor, where he was presented both the Silver and Bronze Stars, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland July 18, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Sarayuth Pinthong)
Technical Sgt. Michael Perolio, stands at attention during the playing of the National Anthem during an event in his honor, where he was presented both the Silver and Bronze Stars, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland July 18, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Sarayuth Pinthong)

A U.S. Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controller was awarded the Silver Star on Thursday for calling in airstrikes on enemy fighters in Afghanistan while under fire last year.

Tech. Sgt. Michael Perolio, an assessment and selection instructor assigned to the 350th Special Warfare Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, received the third-highest award for valor in combat during a ceremony Thursday for exposing himself to direct and effective fire after his five-man team was ambushed in Mohmand Valley, Achin District, Nangarhar Province.

On Jan. 11, 2018, Perolio was operating alongside Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 0221, partnered with the Afghan 8th Special Operations Kandak Commandos as part of Operation Freedom's Sentinel. He was assigned to Strike Team 3, 22 Special Tactics Squadron, out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, at the time.

During Perolio's 165-day deployment, he and the teams spent their time in a forward and austere combat outpost in the region, moving in and out of a local compound. On the day of the attack, the five men were sent out in an all-terrain vehicle to conduct "a key leader engagement" with local militia as part of a larger mission to clear Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, fighters in the valley.

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After the meeting, their unarmored truck was struck by bullets.

"Ripping through the vehicle, the initial volley of fire critically injured three members of the element, including the ground force commander," according to Perolio's award citation.

"Faced with intense enemy fire, Sergeant Perolio immediately took charge of the element by rendering aid, arming his wounded comrades, and establishing fields of fire," it states.

Perolio stepped out from cover in an attempt to find a way out, especially for the wounded, the citation continues. A barrage of bullets streamed past just 50 meters away from where the team was hunkered down.

He then made contact for backup, including aerial cover.

"Making contact with the responding Quick Reaction Force, Sergeant Perolio directed a series of precise airstrikes, killing 12 enemy combatants and destroying the machine-gun emplacement," the citation states.

"Perolio saved my life and the lives of several of my guys," said Capt. William Clark, the ground force commander, in a statement prior to the ceremony. "His actions ensured that we were able to make it home. He is a phenomenal joint terminal attack controller, a great friend and someone I consider a brother. I honestly can't thank him enough for what he did."

According to the citation, Perolio's quick thinking allowed two members of the team to receive life-saving medical care within 15 minutes of being shot.

Separately, Perolio was awarded the Bronze Star medal for actions he took over the course of his deployment to Afghanistan from September 2017 to March 2018.

According to that citation, Perolion was "the sole air planner" for a major, enduring counter-ISIS offensive and direct adviser to Clark.

"Sergeant Perolio controlled over 1,000 aircraft sorties during five and a half months of sustained combat operations," the Bronze Star citation states. "His strategic application of lethal airpower directly accounted for a staggering 214 enemy killed in action," and allowed for coalition forces to gain back territory.

Incoming Air Education and Training Commander commander Lt. Gen. Brad Webb presented Perolio his awards Thursday. Webb was most recently the chief of Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field, Florida.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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