|Service/branch||United States Air Force|
|Years of service||2004–present|
Operation Unified Response
|Awards||Air Force Cross
Purple Heart (2)
Zachary Rhyner is a technical sergeant who is a Combat Controller (CCT) in the United States Air Force. Rhyner received the Air Force Cross for his actions in the Battle of Shok Valley on 6 April 2008 in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan. Rhyner is also the recipient of two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star Medal and the Air Force Combat Action Medal.
Rhyner enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on 31 May 2004.After completing the Combat Control training pipeline he was assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at Pope AFB (later Pope Field).
Battle of Shok Valley
On 6 April 2008, an assault force, dubbed Commando Wrath, entered a remote valley of the Nuristan Province, Afghanistan. Commando Wrath was composed of three Special Forces teams, each with a Combat Controller, and a company from the 201st Afghan Commando Battalion. Rhyner was attached to Army Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 3336, from the 3rd Special Forces Group. Their mission was to capture Haji Ghafour, a high-ranking commander of the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) militant group. Shortly after landing the assault force was ambushed and pinned down and the assault force was split in two on either side of a river.
In the course of the battle, Rhyner was shot twice in the chest and once in the leg, although his protective vest stopped the two bullets to his chest from causing a mortal injury. Rhyner continued to direct close air support and airstrikes until the assault force was evacuated seven hours later. He was credited with saving the 100-man team from being overrun twice. During the battle, Rhyner directed close air support and airstrikes totalling 4,570 cannon rounds, nine Hellfire missiles, 162 rockets, a dozen 500-pound bombs, and one 2,000-pound bomb.
Capt. Stewart Parker, the Command and Control Special Forces commander at Bagram Air Base during the battle, said of Rhyner: "Rhyner is out of training less than a year and is in one of the most difficult situations ... it is an absolute testament to his character and the training these guys take. It tells me we are doing something right." During a Fox News interview with Glen Beck, Beck asked Rhyner "... there are only — what is it? — 192 people who have ever received the Air Force Cross ... How do you put that together in your head? I mean, you are in a very elite group." Rhyner replied "Any other combat controller put in the same situation would have performed in the same, exact way ... Credit that to the training we receive and the process that we go through to become a combat controller."
Rhyner has been deployed six times, including to Iraq and Afghanistan. He has also participated in humanitarian assistance operations and was a part of Operation Unified Response in Haiti during the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake.
Awards and honors
Air Force Cross
Rhyner's award citation reads:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Senior Airman Zachary J. Rhyner, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an armed enemy of the United States while serving with the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, at Nuristan Province, Afghanistan on 6 April 2008. On that date, while assigned as Special Tactics Combat Controller, Airman Rhyner executed a day rotary-wing infiltration with his Special Forces team to capture high-value insurgents in a village on the surrounding mountains. While climbing near vertical terrain to reach their objective, the team was attacked in a well-coordinated and deadly ambush. Devastating sniper, machine gun, and rocket-propelled grenade fire poured down on the team from elevated and protected positions on all sides, immediately pinning down the assault force. Without regard for his life, Airman Rhyner placed himself between the most immediate threats and provided suppressive fire with his M-4 rifle against enemy fire while teammates were extracted from the line of fire. Airman Rhyner bravely withstood the hail of enemy fire to control eight United States Air Force fighters and four United States Army attack helicopters. Despite a gunshot wound to the left leg and being trapped on a 60-foot cliff under constant enemy fire, Airman Rhyner controlled more than 50 attack runs and repeatedly repelled the enemy with repeated danger close air strikes, several within 100 meters of his position. Twice, his actions prevented his element from being overrun during the intense six and a half hour battle. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Airman Rhyner reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
- Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs' Grateful Nation Award (2008)
- United Service Organizations of Metropolitan Washington Special Salute award (2009)
- 2008 USO Airman of the Year
- "Zachary Rhyner saluted Sunday for Operation Fan Mail". Packers.com. Archived from the original on 25 December 2013. Retrieved 9 April 2014.
- "Hall of Valor: Zachary Rhyner". Military Times. Archived from the original on 8 April 2014. Retrieved 17 January 2013.
- Senior Airman Becky J. LaRaia; Lisa Terry McKeown, 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs (8 April 2005). "Ship takes heroic legacy to the fight". US Air Force. Archived from the original on 19 October 2012. Retrieved 15 January 2010.
- Airman 1st Class Jason A. Neal; 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs (13 January 2003). "Pope combat controller awarded Air Force Cross". US Air Force. Archived from the original on 6 October 2012. Retrieved 15 January 2010.
- "Veteran Tributes". Veteran Tributes. 31 May 2004. Archived from the original on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
- Mitch Weiss; Kevin Mauer (2012). No Way Out: A Story of Valor in the Mountains of Afghanistan. The Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-425-25340-3.
- John Ramsey (11 March 2009). "Airman gets medal for valor". Fayetteville Observer. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
- Fred W. Baker III (10 September 2009). "American Forces Press Service". Retrieved 12 April 2014.
- "Photo Essay - US Metro 27th Annual Awards Dinner". U.S. Department of Defense. Archived from the original on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 9 April 2014.
- Capt. Laura Ropelis. "Air Commando saves lives in Afghanistan". United States Air Force. Archived from the original on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
- "Airman to Receive Air Force Cross". Military.com. 27 February 2009. Archived from the original on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
- "Combat controller receives Air Force Cross, Purple Heart". 3/11/2009. Retrieved 17 January 2013.
- Brig. Gen. Darryl Burke (29 July 2010). "Avoid the vertical pronoun". Fort Leonard Wood Guidon. Archived from the original on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
- "And the 2008 Grateful Nation Award Recipients Are...". 14 November 2008. Archived from the original on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 17 January 2008.
- "Photo Essay – Chairman Presents Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs Grateful Nation Awards". U.S. Department of Defense. Archived from the original on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 9 April 2014.
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