Staff Sergeant Jeffery Salazar provided mission critical airpower expertise as a joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) while attached to an Army Special Forces team in the contested Kunar Province, Afghanistan from January to July 2011. As the sole JTAC on the team, he planned, coordinated, and executed air support for 37 combat missions. He also controlled “dangerclose” fixed and rotary wing air strikes in 15 high-intensity combat engagements with the enemy.
On one combat reconnaissance patrol, Sergeant Salazar and his team split into two maneuver elements to conduct the operation. Within minutes of splitting, Sergeant Salazar’s sister element received enemy fire. As Sergeant Salazar and his element maneuvered into a support-by-fire position, they also began receiving small arms fire from four Taliban fighters. Sergeant Salazar quickly engaged two of the four insurgents with his machine gun. As they pursued the enemy fighters on foot, his element continued to be targeted with sporadic enemy fire. Sergeant Salazar moved within 10 meters of one enemy position where he positively identified and engaged an enemy fighter with his rifle. Suspecting that the enemy was killed, he then shifted his focus to the other enemy fighters, moving closer to confirm that the first enemy fighter was killed. When he was within 15 feet of the presumed dead Taliban fighter, the enemy fighter threw a hand grenade at Sergeant Salazar. Although it landed short, the grenade was still within fragmentation range. Sergeant Salazar was blown off his feet but rapidly regained his composure and reengaged the enemy with his rifle and killed his adversary. Even though the grenade inflicted fragmentation injuries to his knee, Sergeant Salazar fought through the pain during the four-hour engagement until the mission was complete.
At the beginning of the engagement, Sergeant Salazar had requested close air support and subsequently received a flight of two F-16s. After the F-16s checked in, the other element was hit by an improvised explosive device. Sergeant Salazar and his element moved to their location to provide treatment to the injured. He then used the aircraft as an early warning device for any enemy activity to paint a picture of the battlefield for the ground force commander and to aid with the medical evacuation.
Using 17,000 pounds of bombs and an assortment of rockets and guns, Sergeant Salazar’s actions over the course of his deployment resulted in 38 enemies killed in action. For his heroic actions, Sergeant Salazar was awarded the Bronze Star.