Combat Controller Receives Air Force Cross, Purple Heart
(May 20, 2009)
U.S. Air Force photo
POPE AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. (AFN - 3/11/2009)
Tears stood in Sue Rhyner's eyes as she talked about her
son, who, in a ceremony March 10 here received the Air Force
Cross, the highest military decoration awarded by the
service, and a Purple Heart.
Staff Sgt. Zachary Rhyner of the 21st Special Tactics
Squadron from Pope Air Force Base, N.C., received the medal
for uncommon valor during Operation Enduring Freedom before
a crowd of hundreds dotted with combat controllers' red
The decoration is second only to the Medal of Honor, and is
awarded by the president.
"This is overwhelming. I couldn't be prouder," Ms. Rhyner
said. "Zac is part of an awesome group of individuals who
personify teamwork; something he learned early on being one
of five children."
Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley presented
Sergeant Rhyner the Air Force Cross for his actions during
an intense 6.5-hour battle in Shok Valley, Afghanistan,
April 6, 2008. The Air Force has not awarded the decoration
in more than six years.
"Your actions are now and forever woven into the rich fabric
of service, integrity and excellence that has connected
America's Airmen since the very inception
of airpower," Secretary Donley said to Sergeant Rhyner.
"Rarely do we present an Airman with the Air Force Cross,
let alone a Purple Heart, and with good reason. The Air
Force Cross is reserved for those who demonstrate
unparalleled valor in the face of insurmountable odds."
Secretary Donley added that among the millions who have
served, only 192 Air Force Crosses have been awarded.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz also presented
Sergeant Rhyner with the Purple Heart. General Schwartz said
special forces Soldiers lived to tell the story of the Shok
Valley battle thanks to the courage, tenacity, teamwork, as
well as the invaluable and selfless efforts of Sergeant
Despite injuries he sustained as the result of persistent
insurgent fire, Sergeant Rhyner coordinated more than 50
aerial attacks to continuously repel the enemy during the
beleaguering battle that occurred during his
first deployment. According to the decoration
Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley presents Staff Sgt. Zachary Rhyner the Air Force Cross March 10 at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. Sergeant Rhyner of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron received the medal for uncommon valor during Operation Enduring Freedom for his actions during an intense 6.5-hour battle in Shok Valley, Afghanistan, April 6, 2008. U.S. Air Force photo
|Sergeant Rhyner "provided suppressive fire with his M-4 rifle against
enemy fire while fellow teammates were extracted from the
line of fire."
"The team survived this hellish scene ... not by chance, not
by luck and not by the failings of a weak or timid foe,"
General Schwartz said. |
The general spoke emotionally and with gratitude for the
team's devotion to duty and courage in the line of fire.
"A grateful nation could not be more proud for what you do
and no doubt what you will do," the general said.
Lt. Col. Michael Martin, the 21st STS commander, echoed the
efforts of Sergeant Rhyner and the aviators from above.
"Zac -- systematically with (F-15E) Strike Eagles, A-10
(Thunderbolt IIs) and AH-64 (Apaches) -- unleashed hell on
the enemy," Colonel Martin said. "The enemy had the
proverbial high ground that day on those mountain ridge
lines, but it was the aviators in the sky who truly held the
Colonel Martin credited the 335th Fighter Squadron from
Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., and the 81st Fighter Squadron
from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, for providing critical
close-air support during the battle. Sergeant Rhyner's
demonstration of teamwork among his colleagues and flying
units was the linear theme of the ceremony.
For the same battle, an unprecedented 10 special forces
Soldiers received Silver Stars, the Army's third highest
award for valor in combat.
"It all boils down to teamwork," Colonel Martin said to
Sergeant Rhyner. "You did exactly what you get paid to do --
kill the enemy -- and you did a damned good job."
Perhaps Sergeant Rhyner's heroism is bested only by his
"Any other combat controller in the same position would've
done just what I did," said the NCO who was a senior airman
at the time of the battle.
Sergeant Rhyner's father, Paul Rhyner, said he now has only
one expectation for his son and other special forces members
in future missions.
"Come home safe; all of you," the elder Rhyner said.
By USAF TSgt. Amaani Lyle
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs Office
Air Force News Service
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