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Two airmen assigned to the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., were awarded the nation’s third and fourth highest combat military decorations for their actions in Afghanistan. TSgt. Michael Blout, a combat controller, received the Silver Star and SSgt. Stephan Merlics, a tactical air control party member, received the Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device, states a March 14 release. In October 2012, Blout exchanged “direct fire with the enemy [and] orchestrated close air support” for a teammate in need of immediate medical attention. He coordinated the arrival of medevac aircraft and placed himself between the aircraft and the enemy, states the release. Merlics was honored for his actions between September 2012 and March 2013, during which time he “conducted 48 combat missions with partnered Afghan forces and controlled 263 attack [and] intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft,” states the release. On one recon mission, his team came under attack and “he left cover in order to positively identify enemy positions.” He returned fire “while simultaneously coordinating medical evacuation assets and directing air strikes onto enemy positions,” states the release.