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​SSgt. Keaton Thiem controls aircraft during a drug and weapons cache clearing mission in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Air Force photo

​Over an intense 14-hour battle earlier this year in Afghanistan, SSgt. Keaton Thiem, a combat controller with the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron, ventured into enemy fire to rescue four teammates and directed 22 aircraft to deliver 3,000 pounds of bombs. Thiem on Wednesday received the Silver Star during a ceremony at JB Lewis-McChord, Wash., for his actions in the February battle. “It’s hard to say the fear goes away, because it’s definitely nerve-wracking,” Thiem said at the ceremony. “Having the weight of the situation on your shoulders, disregard for yourself takes over and you do what you have to do to make sure the rest of the team gets out of there.”  

On Feb. 22, Thiem was attached to a special operations element including Army Special Forces and Afghan troops approaching a town in Bagram Province that was about to be taken by well-equipped Taliban fighters. The team met small arm and grenade fire, where Thiem directed an F-16 to drop two 500-pound bombs within 80 meters of friendly positions. After those threats were eliminated, the team moved toward another complex where they were ambushed. Thiem led a team into enemy fire several times to rescue pinned-down Afghan troops, running 100 meters in open terrain to find a friendly element. He then directed six F-16 shows of force, and another danger-close airstrike. Four Afghan troops were missing, so Thiem directed a reconnaissance aircraft to locate them. When they were found, he coordinated an Army AH-64 Apache escort. He directed several gun runs and rocket strikes to recover troops, before then calling for medical evacuation flights. In addition to Thiem, three Special Forces soldiers also received Silver Stars for their actions in the fight. “What means the most is when my teammates on the Army side reach out and congratulate me because they were there with me,” he said. “I don’t even have words to explain what I feel when some of them tell me I saved their lives. … It’s humbling.”