Sgt Daniel Keller Receives Air Force Cross
JTAC Sgt Daniel Keller of the Kentucky Air National Guard is set to receive the Air Force Cross on Friday, September 13. He becomes only the 11th Airman post 9-11 to receive the valor award, which will be given by General David Goldfein, Air Force Chief of Staff. Keller was promoted to Tech Sergeant upon his return from Afghanistan.
August 16, 2017, ISIS-K stronghold, Afghanistan
Joint Terminal Attack Controller Sgt Daniel Keller, is assigned to the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron. On August 16, 2017, every skill he had was put to use in a 15 hour battle that saw 4 men killed, and 30 wounded (31 by some counts). More would have died had Sgt Keller not taken the actions he did, according to the Air Force.
ISIS-K had commandeered a village and taken the houses of locals. A structure booby trapped with an IED exploded near the team. One of Sgt Keller’s friends, SSgt Aaron Butler, a Green Beret, was killed in the blast. Sgt Keller, standing nearby was not hit with shrapnel, but the blast caused a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury).
“Everything just sort of went black. Initially, I thought I was blinded. Then, all right, I’m not blinded. You assess yourself, make sure everything still moves. Two guys next to me did the same thing.”Military.com
Then he had to assess who could fight and who could not. The team was made up of both Afghan and US forces, and had 130 members.
After the explosion knocked him to the ground, Keller quickly returned to his feet and began repelling enemy fighters about 150 meters away with his M4 carbine. Meanwhile, he directed strikes from American aircraft and coordinated a medical evacuation for 13 critically injured troops.
Keller helped move those troops to the helicopter landing zone “under a hail of enemy fire,” according to the citation. He then took it upon himself to make certain those men could be removed from the battlefield.
“When medical evacuation helicopters were unable to identify the landing zone, he sprinted to the center of the field, exposing himself to enemy fire in order to marshal in both aircraft and aid in loading the casualties,” the citation reads.
The fighting continued. Keller volunteered to walk the 2.5 kilometers to a nearby combat outpost to escort wounded teammates who could not be exfiltrated by helicopter. When ISIS launched another attack from three directions, Keller again repressed it with his M4 and coordinated with another combat controller to direct strikes that enabled the American and Afghan commandos to escape the fighting, according to the citation.
Sgt Daniel Keller said he was just doing what anyone would have done in the same situation. The assault force was vastly outnumbered by ISIS-K fighters – estimated at 350.
“As the remaining U.S. forces departed the area, Keller repulsed a three-sided enemy attack by returning fire and passing enemy positions onto another joint terminal attack controller, allowing friendly forces to break contact with the enemy.” Air Force Cross Citation
“We kinda fought our way out.” Sgt Daniel Keller
Keller is the 2nd airman to receive a medal for that same battle. Staff Sgt Pete Dinich received a Silver Star for his actions that day on September 6.
Sgt Daniel Keller enlisted in the Air Force in 2012. He previously served in the US Navy 2003-2009.
Featured photo: US Air Force