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Kentucky National Guardsman Sgt. Daniel Keller receives Air Force Cross for valor in Afghanistan

Kentucky Today

A special operations Airman from the Kentucky Air National Guard received the Air Force Cross for combat valor during a ceremony here Friday in recognition of his actions on a battlefield in Afghanistan.

Gen. David L. Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, presented the Air Force Cross to Staff Sgt. Daniel P. Keller, a combat controller in the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron.

Daniel Keller

The award, second only to the Medal of Honor, is bestowed on members of the armed forces who display extraordinary heroism while engaged in action against an enemy of the United States.

Keller earned the Air Force Cross on Aug. 16, 2017, while serving as a joint terminal attack controller for Combined Joint Special Operations Air Component Afghanistan during Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

According to the citation, he was on a clearance mission in Nangarhar Province against 350 ISIS fighters. After 15 hours of sustained contact, the assault force struck an improvised explosive device, killing four personnel and wounding 31. Injured himself, Keller struggled to his feet and executed air-to-ground engagements while returning fire, repulsing an enemy assault less than 150 meters away.

Keller then helped move 13 critically wounded casualties to a helicopter landing zone “under a hail of enemy fire,” the citation said. “When medical evacuation helicopters were unable to identify the landing zone, he sprinted to the center of the field, exposing himself to enemy fire in order to marshal in both aircraft and aid in loading casualties.”

While remaining U.S. forces were departing, Keller fought off a three-sided enemy attack by returning fire and passing enemy positions on to another joint terminal attack controller, allowing friendly forces to break contact.

“His personal courage, quick actions and tactical expertise whilst under fire directly contributed to the survival of the 130 members of his assault force, including 31 wounded in action,” the citation concluded.

A Silver Star medal for the same operation was presented at Hurlburt Field, Florida, on Sept. 6 to U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Pete Dinich, an active-duty para-rescueman assigned to the 24th Special Operations Wing.

Special Tactics is the Air Force and Air National Guard’s special operations cadre, leading personnel recovery, global access, precision-strike missions and battlefield medical care.

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