LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A special operations Airman from the Kentucky Air National Guard Friday received the nation's second-highest medal for combat valor for his actions on an Afghanistan battlefield.
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, in a ceremony at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville.
Goldfein praised Keller's "courage under fire" and noted that only 10 Airmen have received the Air Force Cross since 9/11.
"Your actions are remarkable," Goldfein said, adding that Keller didn't give a second thought to risking "everything for a fellow teammate in a bad situation."
Gov. Matt Bevin, R-Ky., also attended the ceremony, thanking Keller for his "heroic" actions.
The award - second only to the Medal of Honor - is given to 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 assigned as a joint terminal attack controller for Combined Joint Special Operations Air Component Afghanistan during Operation Freedom's Sentinel. Keller was on a clearance mission in Nangarhar Province against 350 Islamic state fighters, according to the award citation. After 15 hours of sustained contact, the assault force struck an improvised explosive device, killing four personnel and wounding 31. Injured and struggling to his feet, Keller 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 causalities."
As U.S. forces departed, Keller fought off a three-sided enemy attack by returning fire and passing enemy positions on to another joint terminal attack controller.
"His courage, quick actions and tactical expertise ... 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, Sept. 6 to Air Force Staff Sgt. Pete Dinich, an active-duty pararescueman 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.