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Air Force Combat Controller to Receive Silver Star for Firefight in Iraq

Staff Sgt. Christopher Lewis (Image: Air Force)
Staff Sgt. Christopher Lewis (Image: Air Force)

The Air Force will award a combat controller the Silver Star next month for engaging Islamic State fighters and calling in precision strikes during the Mosul offensive under Operation Inherent Resolve.

Staff Sgt. Christopher Lewis, a combat controller with 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, will be presented with the military's third-highest valor award during a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Florida, on Jan. 19, the service said in a release Wednesday.

Lewis, who was featured in the Air Force's 2017 "Portraits in Courage" program, was engaged in a 10-hour firefight while embedded with a Navy SEAL team, alongside Kurdish Peshmerga forces, on Oct. 20, 2016.

The troops were tasked to advise, assist and accompany the Kurds to clear two villages held by heavily entrenched ISIS fighters, according to Lewis' "Portraits in Courage" story.

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Four days earlier, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had declared the beginning of the assault to recapture Mosul.

Soon after the team arrived, ISIS fighters began a rapid assault of grenade, mortar and small-arms fire at them -- but the automated .50 caliber turret gun on Lewis' vehicle dislodged and became inoperable.

"Lewis systematically engaged the enemy in multiple locations from the open turret," according to the Portraits in Courage release. "He held this vulnerable position for hours despite direct enemy fire impacting within inches of him."

Lewis called in airstrikes from F-15E Strike Eagles and B-52 Stratofortress bombers. The strikes came within 400 meters of his team, crippling ISIS defensive positions.

During one of the strikes, "Lewis identified, engaged, and destroyed an enemy vehicle-borne improvised explosive device barreling toward his team at high speed -- exploding within 100 meters of the convoy," the release said.

As the team repositioned, an IED detonated and triggered seven additional explosions, killing one U.S. service member and wounding others.

Lewis without hesitation leapt out of the turret to assist the wounded, calling for casualty evacuation on the radio and providing medical care to his team.

Lewis called for more airstrikes, one of which took out yet another vehicle-borne IED headed straight for his team.

His actions aided in eliminating more than 20 enemy forces, the release said.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein on Nov. 6 tweeted out Lewis' profile, saying, "#MondayMotivation." Lewis had already been recommended for the Silver Star to his superiors.

Similarly in October, a combat controller who helped stave off an ambush in Afghanistan received the Air Force Cross.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson presented the Air Force Cross -- second only to the Medal of Honor for valor in combat -- to Staff Sgt. Richard Hunter for his steadfast decisions and courage during a U.S. Army-led mission in Afghanistan.

"Special operations is a force that we call when we really need the absolute best," Wilson said during the ceremony at Hurlburt.

She added, "There's no better friend -- and no worse enemy -- than the United States special operations forces."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.