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Combat controller receives Silver Star for heroism during 13-hour firefight

Aug. 24, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
McKenna
McKenna ()
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On Sept. 12, 2013, Tech. Sgt. Matthew McKenna was on a mission with Special Forces and Afghan troops in Kandahar province when insurgents attacked. Over 13 hours, with enemy rounds landing inches from his head, McKenna crisscrossed the kill zone as he called in airstrikes and resupply missions that kept his team alive.

“It’s part of my job; it’s part of my training. I absolutely had to know where all my buddies are, all my teammates are — and I need to know where the enemy is,” McKenna, of the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron, told Air Force Times in an Aug. 21 interview. “It was necessary at several points for me to reposition myself so I could get a vantage point so I could put eyes and put precision impacts down on the enemy.”

McKenna and another combat controller assigned to the team called in airstrikes from Apache and Kiowa helicopters and AC-130 gunships that left 102 insurgents dead by the end of the battle.

About three hours into the battle, his teammates were running dangerously low on ammunition, so McKenna called in critical supply drops that kept U.S. troops in the fight. In addition to talking to aircraft and keeping on the move under fire, McKenna also shot at the enemy with his rifle.

For his bravery, McKenna was awarded the Silver Star on Aug. 18 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

McKenna was on his fourth deployment downrange during the September 2013 mission.

“We landed in the mountains, a couple of kilometers away from the target valley,” he said. “As soon as we landed, we quickly realized that the enemy knew we were there.”

During the firefight, he relied heavily on his resiliency training to keep moving through the relentless enemy fire.

“One of the things they teach us is, ‘Hey, take a second, take a pause, take a breath and just press on with the situation,’ ” he said.

“We use kind of a ‘crawl, walk, run’ [method] to get you prepared to deal with more and more complex scenarios,” he said. “Solve one problem at a time. So, yeah, I need to move; yeah, I need to be talking to these aircraft; yes, I need to be shooting, so let’s address this problem — and whatever is going to happen in 30 minutes, we’ll deal with that in 30 minutes or so.”

McKenna said his Silver Star recognizes his teammates on the ground and in the air.

“It’s not about me,” he said. “A lot of people made that day happen — to make sure that everyone got out of there. To me, it’s really everyone doing their job and fighting together so that we could get the mission done — but most importantly, so that everyone could make it back.”

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