Story by Danielle Knight
In the early morning hours of Jan. 11, 2018, a five-man team set out to conduct a seemingly uneventful and successful key leader engagement in Afghanistan. Over a year later, an Air Force Special Warfare Airman stood in front of a crowd at the Lackland Gateway Club at JBSA-Lackland July 18 to be presented with a Silver Star for his actions that secured the safety of his joint and allied partners.
Technical Sgt. Michael Perolio, an assessment and selection instructor assigned to the 350th Special Warfare Training Squadron at JBSA-Lackland was awarded the nation’s third-highest medal for his heroic actions in combat during Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
The presentation of the Silver Star was hosted by Col. James Hughes, Special Warfare Training Wing commander, and the presiding official of the ceremony was Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, incoming commander of Air Education and Training Command. U.S. Army Capt. William Clark, the ground force commander of Perolio’s unit in Afghanistan was a guest speaker at the event.
“The Silver Star is a big deal,” Webb said. “Mike is going to join the ranks of some notable Airmen such as Chuck Yeager, Bud Day, Jimmy Doolittle, and special warfare operators such as Calvin Markham, Cam Kelsch, [Ishmael] Villegas and Brian Claughsey to name a few.”
The citations for both the Silver Star and the Bronze Star Medals were read in front of family, friends and fellow special warfare colleagues. Perolio’s family looked on, tearful and proud as they heard the details about his heroism for the first time.
On that early January morning in Afghanistan, Perolio’s actions under dangerous circumstances distinguished himself as a Special Tactics Combat Controller. As his team left the key leader engagement, they were engaged by heavy machine-gun fire from enemy fighters, injuring three members, including Clark. Perolio immediately took charge by treating his wounded comrades. Once he realized that Clark was gravely injured with wounds to the chest and leg, he moved directly into the line of enemy fire to identify the safest route back to friendly lines.
Perolio then directed a precision airstrike, killing 12 enemy combatants and completely destroying the heavy machine-gun minutes after first contact with no further injury to his team or collateral damage.
According to the citation, Perolio’s calm thinking under fire and innate ability to manage a crucial situation allowed two members to receive life-saving medical care within 15 minutes of injury.
“[Perolio] is an expert at his job,” Clark said. “He’s everything that you would want from someone standing next to you in a gunfight. Mike and some very talented surgeons are the only two reasons that I’m here today. He got me out of the worst situation that I’ve ever been in and I honestly can’t thank him enough.”
In response to receiving the medal, Perolio said he felt humbled.
“It’s pretty crazy to have my name etched on that wall of Air Force Silver Star recipients,” he said. “I am honored to be part of that.”
Perolio’s current duty is training new recruits that come through the assessment and selection course for the Special Warfare Training Wing. Perolio stressed the influence of what he, as an instructor, can provide to current students.
“I take a high ownership of training these [students] to get ready for what’s to come,” he said. “At the end of the day, there’s a lot out there that they will be exposed to, and not every experience is the same…it’s a big responsibility that we have in Air Force Special Warfare.”