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​The Air Force will award SSgt. Richard Hunter the Air Force Cross—the service’s highest award for valor in combat. USAF illustration.

​The Air Force will award SSgt. Richard Hunter the Air Force Cross—the service’s highest award for valor in combat, second only to the Medal of Honor, Air Force Special Operations Command boss Lt. Gen. Brad Webb announced at ASC17 on Tuesday.

On Nov. 2, 2016, Hunter, a joint terminal attack controller assigned to the 23rd Expeditionary Special Tactics Team, was assigned to an Army Special Forces team tasked with recovering a Taliban safe haven when his team was ambushed. Over the course of an eight-hour firefight, Hunter called in “31 danger close strikes, some as close as 13 meters away,” from AC-130 gunships and AH-64 helicopters, said Webb.

His team was temporarily trapped in a narrow alley as the enemy launched grenades and shot at them with machine guns, killing and wounding several US soldiers.

“Hunter charged forward under a barrage of enemy fire to shield the wounded with his body while calling in suppressing fire,” according to his write up in the Air Force’s Portraits of Courage. “He coordinated close air support strikes, deconflicted airspace, and maximized fire support from overhead gunships, repelling the enemies’ advances, and allowing medics to treat and move casualties.”

The ground force commander was killed as his team “maneuvered blindly” through a cloud of smoke, “and Hunter again braved enemy fire to protect his wounded teammate,” according to the release. He called in a Quick Reaction Force and a casualty evacuation helicopter then moved on to help clear adjacent buildings so his team could escape the ambush.

“In the middle of the chaos, Hunter heard someone call for help. Peering over a wall, he saw a member of his team with serious injuries lying exposed, pinned down, and unable to move. Hunter led a fire team back into the kill zone at great risk to their lives to recover their wounded teammate,” states the release. “During this recovery, he directed airstrikes with a radio in one hand while dragging the rescued team member 30 meters to safety with his other hand.”

After the QRF arrived, Hunter directed more overhead fires so the wounded could be evacuated.

“It’s an extremely heroic mission. I’m very proud of him,” said Webb, who noted the award will be Air Force Special Operations Command’s 11th Air Force Cross.