Kentucky Special Tactics Airmen Get Bronze Stars for Actions in Afghanistan, Against ISIS

From left to right, Master Sgt. Benjamen Pelster, Sgt. Blair Baerny, TSgt. Joshua Busch, SSgt. Robert Willging, and SSgt. Daniel Keller are shown at the Nov. 17 awards ceremony. Air National Guard photos by SSgt. Joshua Horton.

Five special tactics airmen with the Kentucky Air National Guard recently received Bronze Star awards, including one with Valor, for actions in both Afghanistan and against ISIS in Iraq during a ceremony Nov. 17 in Louisville.

The five airmen, members of the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, displayed “selflessness and bravery” in combat, for actions in dozens of fire fights dating back to 2014, according to a Friday Kentucky Air National Guard news release.

“Since 9/11, every guard unit has struggled with becoming more operational, but with an STS unit in this wing, they lead the way,” said Col. David Mounkes, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, according to the release. “They are — by nature, by their mission — always operational.”

—SSgt Robert Willging, a combat controller, received the Bronze Star with Valor for his actions during a July 23, 2017, firefight at an undisclosed location. Willging was assigned to a special operations team during a patrol when they came under attack. He exposed himself to hostile fire to control close air support, deconflicting 15 aircraft and coordinated the evacuation of two personnel killed and five wounded in action, according to the release. His performance contributed to 81 enemies killed and 31 wounded in action and multiple fighting positions destroyed.

—MSgt. Blair Baerny, a pararescuemen, received the Bronze Star for actions in Afghanistan from Aug. 22 through Nov. 12, 2015, where he ensured effective combat search and rescue coverage and degraded enemy capabilities, according to the release.

—MSgt. Benjamen Pelster, received the Bronze Star for his time as the noncommissioned officer in charge of an assault zone reconnaissance team from June 26 through Nov. 1, 2014. He helped execute nine missions across five countries, establishing critical air infrastructure in support of the anti-ISIS fight. This included supervising a 53-man team during a night infiltration and assessment of an airfield in Southern Iraq, along with supervising a 12-man team that resupplied partner forces in their fight against al Qaeda, according to the release.

—TSgt. Joshua Busch, a combat controller, received the Bronze Star for his actions as a senior tactical adviser for 17 operations that helped prevent ISIS fighters from overrunning checkpoints in Afghanistan from Feb. 20 through May 14, 2018, the release states. During this time, he coordinated 42 air and ground engagements while under fire. During one incident, Busch was forced inside the lethal radius of an improvised explosive device pressure plate, and he helped assess two patients and provided combat care and medical evacuation to an explosive ordnance disposal teammate despite a double amputation.

—SSgt. Daniel Keller, a combat controller, received the Bronze Star for actions in Eastern Afghanistan from April 23 through Oct. 1, 2017. While at a combat outpost, he engaged ISIS in 51 intense firefights, including stopping several enemy assaults.