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Combat Controller Robert Gutierrez Receives Air Force Cross

In a ceremony attended by hundreds at Hurlburt Field, Florida on Oct. 27, Staff Sgt. Robert Gutierrez was presented with the Air Force Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor, by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz.

Schwartz also presented the Silver Star to Tech. Sgt. Ismael Villegas.

The two joint terminal attack controllers were being honored for separate actions in Afghanistan.

It had been planned as Gutierrez’s day but GZ, as friends call him, had learned that his teammate was up for recognition and wanted Villegas to be honored in the same ceremony.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Tech Sgt. Ismael Villegas with Silver Star

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Tech Sgt. Ismael Villegas with Villegas’ Silver Star citation.

In fierce ground combat in Afghanistan in 2009, Gutierrez was shot in the chest while in combat. While bleeding from nose and mouth, he continued to fight.

“I’ve seen injuries like that before and time isn’t your friend. You get it done. The mission comes first, so I figured I had a couple minutes to live before I bled out. So I was going to do anything I could to bring the fight to the enemy and keep my guys safe,” said Gutierrez.

Silver Star recipient Villegas charged 200 feet across an open, uncleared minefield to help team members who were pinned down by enemy fire.

“I may have received this, but this isn’t for me.” Gutierrez told reporters. “It’s for every airman that’s fighting, every sacrifice we’ve given, every one of my fallen teammates – this is them, this is the representation of them. I just get to wear it for them.”

Gutierrez and Villegas were members of Air Force Special Operations Command’s 21st Special Tactics Squadron during the actions for which they received their medals.


Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...