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Silver Star Medal Recipient

SSgt Keaton D. Thiem

Operation Freedom's Sentinel

February 22, 2016
Afghanistan

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918 (amended by an act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star (Army Award) to Staff Sergeant Keaton D. Thiem, United States Air Force, for gallantry in action while serving as an Air Force combat controller, NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan/Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan, Operation FREEDOM'S SENTINEL in support of Resolute Support Mission.


On 22 - 23 February 2016, Staff Sergeant Thiem distinguished himself under accurate and relentless enemy fire by controlling forces. Despite being suppressed with devastating enemy fire, Staff Sergeant Thiem's disregard for his own safety and ability to calmly and concisely control aircraft to engage the enemy within 35 meters of friendlies was paramount to the safety of ****** and their partnered forces.


Staff Sergeant Thiem's actions mitigated the overwhelming effects of six deadly ambushes and led the recovery of four dislocated personnel, ultimately securing the safety of 100+ man element while inspiring partner forces to accomplish the mission. Staff Sergeant Thiem's actions are in keeping with the finest traditions of military heroism and reflects distinct credit upon himself, the NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan/Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan, and the United States Air Force.


NARRATIVE TO ACCOMPANY AWARD Staff Sergeant Keaton D. Thiem, United States Air Force distinguished himself by exceptional gallantry in the face of an enemy of the United States as a Combat Controller attached to a U.S. Army Special Force team, 22d Expeditionary Special Tactics Squadron-Afghanistan, Combined Joint Special Operations Air Component-Afghanistan during Operation FREEDOM'S SENTINEL in support of RESOLUTE SUPPORT mission. With Pul-E Khumri District in chaos and on the verge of collapse to well-equipped insurgent fighters, the U.S. Army Special Forces team, partnered with the 5th, 7th, and 10th Special Operations Kandaks, initiated an operation near Nyazullah Village, Baghlan Province to retake key terrain and ensure the local governance stood in the face of this overwhelming threat.


On 22 February 2016, Staff Sergeant Thiem, and the main effort consisting of 100+ U.S. and Afghan Partnered Forces ground convoyed to the vehicle drop off location and began the tactical foot movement to the first compound of interest (COI). Upon nearing the building, friendly forces were halted 35 meters short of the objective by highly accurate and heavy AK-47, PKM and RPG fire from entrenched enemy. Intercepted hostile enemy communications indicated that insurgents were established in prepared fighting positions and with the use of night visions devices had concentrated all fires at the Infantry Regiment strobes atop friendly forces helmets. As the main element closed in on the first compound under heavy fire, two friendly elements became pinned down and were unable to maneuver due to withering PKM fire repeatedly impacting within inches of their positions. At that moment, and for the first of many times in the ensuing fight, Sergeant Thiem disregarded his own personal safety, exposing himself to heavy machine gun fire to gain the situational awareness and targeting data necessary to thread the needle with precision weapons in order to save his beleaguered teammates.


Sergeant Thiem then cleared two separate danger close F-16 engagements, surgically dropping two 500-pound bombs with 35 and 80 meters of friendly positions respectively to allow the element to break contact and assault the insurgent position. After neutralizing these initial threats, friendly forces regained the initiative and continued on the offensive until reaching the limit of advance (LOA). When preparing for exfiltration, insurgents once again initiated a complex ambush from fortified positions, this time concentrating heavy fire down the main route of travel towards the assembled friendly formation. The accurate machine gun, RPG, and mortar fire immediately inflicted shrapnel and gunshot wounds to eight personnel.


Dislocated from the main effort and taking direct fire from murder holes and defensive fighting positions, Sergeant Thiem, with no regard for his personal safety, maneuvered 100 meters through a hail of gun fire in open terrain to locate and account for a separated friendly element as he prepared for additional air strikes. He controlled F-16's on six low altitude shows-of-force providing critical time and space for friendlies to maneuver out of the immediate kill zone and scramble to relative safety. After gaining an accurate front line trace of friendly elements, Sergeant Thiem controlled another danger close air strike within 80 meters of friendly elements allowing them the chance to bound back and regroup. As the Special Forces team worked to gain accountability and establish a hasty casualty collection point to treat their eight wounded, it was then identified that four Commando partners were missing.


Still receiving accurate sniper fire, and realizing the urgency of the situation, Sergeant Thiem continued to orchestrate air support, devastating the enemy with precision fires and utilizing dedicated ISR aircraft to locate three Commandos where they had been wounded by heavy enemy fire. Again, with no regard for his personal safety, Sergeant Thiem coordinated an AH-64 escort and led a small recovery team 150 meters directly towards a prepared machine gun position to recover the three Commandos. While on the move, Sergeant Thiem expertly targeted insurgents and controlled two additional 30-mm. gun runs covering the team's movement as they made the final push to the wounded Commandos.


Still under fire, Sergeant Thiem controlled circling ISR aircraft and Apache Gunships while helping bear a wounded teammate on a litter, 200 meters back to the rally point. With one Commando still unaccounted for, his recovery team ran back out into the fray, but was once again pinned down. Without hesitation Sergeant Thiem again controlled two more AH-64 30-mm. gun runs and eight 2.75” rockets to destroy the fortified sniper position allowing the team to reach the fourth missing commando and maneuver back to the main effort.


As the pace of the engagement slowed, Sergeant Thiem focused his efforts on coordinating MEDEVAC lifts for injured forces while continuing to de-conflict close air support fires on several other insurgent positions threatening ground forces and MEDEVAC aircraft. If not for the courage, calm demeanor, and decisive action of Sergeant Thiem, many more friendly lives would have been lost during this ferocious engagement.


During 14 hours of intense combat, Sergeant Thiem controlled precision fires and sensor allocation for 22 aircraft which delivered 3,000 pounds, expended 200 30-mm. rounds and eight 2.75” rockets. Over the course of the intense battle to re-take Pul-E Khumri District, Sergeant Thiem expertly coordinated 18 complex close air support engagements, resulting in 33 enemies killed in action and ensured the safety of 100+ US Army Special Forces personnel and Afghan partner forces.


Sergeant Thiem's actions are in keeping with the finest traditions of military heroism and reflect distinct credit upon himself, the Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, the Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan, and the United States Air Force.

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