Kind of Makes You Wonder What It Takes to Win the Highest Award

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Staff Sgt. Robert Gutierrez

The Air Force brass has nominated Staff Sergeant Robert Gutierrez for the Air Force Cross, its second-highest award for bravery. He was the lone Air Force targeteer assigned to an Army special-forces team in Afghanistan nearly two years ago. The unit’s night-time missi0n: capture a top Taliban leader in the western part of the country, a man allied troops had been seeking for six years. The team came under heavy fire as they breached the compound where their quarry was. Several were wounded, and Gutierrez took a round through his chest. “Every time I tried to talk, I had blood coming out of my mouth and out of my nose,” he said, “so I knew that I had been wounded pretty bad.”

F-16s summoned by Gutierrez tried to scare the Taliban by flying so low and loud they shook parts of the compound into clay shards. Yet the Taliban kept firing on the U.S. team. After a medic re-inflated Gutierrez’s collapsed lung with a seven-inch needle, Gutierrez called in an A-10 strafing run against an enemy position 65 feet away. The attack busted one of his eardrums and severely damaged the other. Finally, after a second A-10 strafing run, the team pried itself from the killing zone. The Taliban lost that key leader, and Gutierrez lost five-and-a-half pints of blood to make sure that none of his battle buddies met the same fate. Reading the harrowing account here.