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Staff Sergeant Robert Gutierrez Jr. Air Force Cross Recipient

On October 5, 2009, SSgt Robert Gutierrez Jr., a combat controller, was attached to a ten-man Special Forces team as the sole Joint Terminal Attack Controller. Their mission was to conduct a high-risk nighttime raid to capture the number two Taliban leader in Herat Province, Afghanistan, during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Walking over a mile to the target compound, the team came under heavy enemy fire by a superior force. Pinned down inside a building with no escape route, SSgt Gutierrez radioed two F-16 Fighting Falcons to conduct a “show of force” flyover to push back the enemy. Gutierrez then engaged Taliban forces with his M-4 rifle, but was shot in the chest with an armor-piercing round. 

The bullet collapsed his lung, broke three ribs, and left a fist-sized exit hole in his back. Gutierrez refused medical treatment, and continued shooting his M-4, while radioing in close air support from two A-10 Warthogs. After calling in the first 30 mm strafing run, the team’s Special Forces medic inserted a needle into Gutierrez’s chest to relieve the pressure, which improved his breathing.

With a threat of being overrun by the enemy, Gutierrez called in two more strafing runs, with bullets striking within 30 feet of his position. Assisted by the A-10s and a circling MQ-1 Predator aircraft, Gutierrez located a Landing Zone (LZ) for a medical evacuation approximately a mile away.

Sergeant Gutierrez slipped in and out of consciousness while waiting on the medevac helicopters, and received a second needle decompression from the medic. As the helicopters neared their position, Gutierrez guided them to the LZ. After being loaded onto the medevac he finally transferred his radio duties to his teammates.

Despite serious injuries during the intense four-hour firefight, Gutierrez coordinated precise firepower, helping destroy the enemy and saving his teammates’ lives. For his heroism, SSgt Robert Gutierrez Jr. was awarded the Air Force Cross.

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