On Thursday April 12, 2012, there was a small ceremony in the Hall of Heroes, located in the concourse of the Pentagon. Hosted by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, this gathering of personnel from across the active and reserve components of several services, along with families and friends, got to see the awarding of a very special decoration: the Air Force Cross. The nation’s second-highest award for valor in combat, the Air Force Cross has been rarely awarded since the end of the Vietnam War, and then only for extraordinary acts of heroism. This ceremony commemorated just such an act, by an extraordinary young Air Force Officer, Capt. Barry F. Crawford.
Crawford is one of the most fearsome warriors in America’s fight against global terrorism and insurrection, assigned as an Air Force combat controller to the Maryland Air National Guard’s 175th Wing. He is also a respected member of Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), with extensive downrange combat experience, particularly with joint special operations forces (SOF) teams like the U.S. Army Special Forces Operational Detachments – Alpha (ODAs or “A-Teams”).
In 2010, Crawford was assigned to an ODA from the 3rd Special Forces Group (SFG) based at Fort Bragg, N.C., which was itself working with teams from the Afghan military. What he did May 4, 2010, is perhaps best said in this slightly redacted version of his Air Force Cross citation:
“… while attached to [an] Army Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha and their Afghan partner force, Captain Crawford conducted a helicopter assault into [REDACTED]. Upon landing, Captain Crawford received reports that multiple groups of armed enemy were maneuvering into prepared fighting positions in the high ground around the village. As the assault force initiated clearance operations, they began to receive a high volume of accurate machine gun and sniper fire from an enemy force well over 100 fighters. As the assault force was attacked, Captain Crawford took decisive action to save the lives of three wounded Afghan soldiers and evacuate two Afghan soldiers killed in action. Recognizing that the wounded Afghan soldiers would die without evacuation to definitive care, Captain Crawford took decisive action and ran out into the open in an effort to guide the helicopter to the landing zone. Once the pilot had eyes on his position, Captain Crawford remained exposed, despite having one of his radio antennas shot off mere inches form his face, while he vectored in the aircraft. Acting without hesitation, Captain Crawford then bounded across open terrain, engaged enemy positions with his assault rifle and called in AH-64 strafe attacks to defeat the ambush allowing the aid-and-litter teams to move toward the casualties. While the casualties were being moved the team’s exposed position once again came under attack from two enemy trucks that had moved into the area and were threatening the medical evacuation landing zone. As one of the aid-and-litter teams was pinned down by enemy fire, and the medical evacuation helicopter took direct hits from small arms fire, it departed with only four casualties leaving one wounded Afghan soldier on the ground. Captain Crawford developed, coordinated, and executed a plan to suppress the enemy, enabling the helicopter to return to the hot landing zone to retrieve the last casualty. While Captain Crawford’s element exfiltrated the village, the assault force conducted a two kilometer movement over steep terrain with little to no cover. Captain Crawford again engaged the enemy with his assault rifle while integrating AH-64s and F-15Es in a coordinated air-to-ground attack plan that included strafing runs along with 500 and 2,0000-pound bomb and Hellfire missile strikes. Throughout the course of the ten hour firefight, Captain Crawford braved effective enemy fire and consciously placed himself at grave risk on four occasions while controlling over 33 aircraft and more than 40 airstrikes on a well-trained and well-prepared enemy force.”
It is a sign of the respect Crawford’s team members have for him personally that the majority of the 3rd SFG ODA from the May 4, 2010 battle traveled to the Pentagon to be with him for his ceremony. When referring to Crawford and his valor after the presentation ceremony, Schwartz referenced the final lines of James A. Michener’s classic novel of the Korean War, The Bridges at Toko Ri, pointed at Crawford and simply said, “Where do we get such men?” As for Crawford, he continues to serve as an AFSOC combat controller for the 175th, as he awaits word on his application to become an A-10 Thunderbolt II (“Warthog’) pilot.