AWACS Airman awarded three combat ribbons for actions during ground attack in Afghanistan

  • Published
  • By Brian Schroeder
  • Tinker Public Affairs
Enlisted servicemembers are occasionally required to wear many hats in the continuing mission of defending the nation. For Senior Airman Dan Boggs, 552nd Air Control Network Squadron AWACS software developer and analyst, the hat of infantryman was unexpected headgear to don during his recent deployment to Afghanistan.

Airman Boggs was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal with Valor March 22 for his selfless contribution in defending Forward Operating Base Gardez against insurgent forces Sept. 24, 2010. He was also awarded the Army Commendation Medal and Army Combat Action Badge for his actions.

In 2009, deployment orders to Afghanistan were received for a communications specialist and Airman Boggs volunteered for the mission. Once in country, Airman Boggs was attached to Provincial Reconstruction Team Paktia, which was a joint effort between Pennsylvania Army National Guard infantry and civil affairs, and Air Force support units, such as medical and communications.

"My job was primarily split between patrolling the local area, posting security detail and helping people with their computers," he said.

The PRT missions were mostly humanitarian in nature, such as providing medical and school supplies, he added. Although the PRT provided charitable aid, Airman Boggs said their unit was attacked for their efforts more often than not.

Afghan elections were held Sept. 18, 2010, and Airman Boggs said PRT Paktia began patrolling the area around FOB Gardez to show a presence in order to deter insurgent activity during the elections.

"There were no direct conflicts, which was great, but (insurgents) did spend most of the day firing mortars at the edge of the city trying to draw us out ... but our commander picked up on that and we went back (to the FOB)," he said.

Approximately one week after the elections, Airman Boggs said FOB Gardez came under attack for the first time in more than five years.

"They attacked us at noon on a Friday. I remember because I was in my PT gear," Airman Boggs recalled. "I was sitting in the chow hall with my friends, and all of a sudden we hear an explosion and everybody just stopped. We waited and heard another explosion, and instantly, every chair in the area moved."

As the PRT members began hurrying from the dining facility to seek shelter in bunkers, Airman Boggs said there was one set of instructions he will not forget.

"As everybody starts rushing out the door there was an (Army) sergeant first class, we called the chow hall Nazi, standing at the door screaming 'Take out our trays! Don't leave your trash behind!'"

Airman Boggs said the servicemembers in the dining facility initially ran into bunkers. They assumed it was only a mortar attack because attacks on the FOB had been unheard of for a long period of time. Then they started hearing gunfire.

"The last thing I really remember is standing there, we hear gunfire and there is a lieutenant colonel and a staff sergeant yelling 'we need guns up front now,'" he said. "Right then all military dispersed and started moving. "

As the situation progressed, Airman Boggs said the sounds of gunfire continued to fill the air and without a second thought, he and a small group of four soldiers attempted to make their way to the direction of enemy fire. However, Airman Boggs was stopped before he could reach a position to return fire.

"A major grabbed me and said 'There is no way you are going up there in PT's with a handgun. What's wrong with you?'" Airman Boggs said. "Point taken, so we ran back to the barracks to change and I don't think I have run that fast in my life.

"At this point there are RPG's flying everywhere and it's starting to sound like Blackhawk Down," said Airman Boggs. "I run into my b-hut and throw my stuff on and grab my M-4. I ran out the door and linked up with some of the other guys that were in the barracks at the time."

As explosions continued to muffle every other sound, Airman Boggs said he suddenly heard an explosion that was much louder than all the rest.

"As soon as we were almost to the ECP, we hear kaboom - a (vehicle borne improvised explosive device)," Airman Boggs said. "The way the barricades were set up, I couldn't actually see the vehicle explode, but I did see the windshield go flying 50 feet into the air."

Airman Boggs said at this point he realized the attack was real, and he mounted a position along the perimeter of the FOB and began returning fire.

"I looked out at the wood line, about 100 to 150 meters away, and I notice it's just twinkling," he said. "At this point it starts to connect in my head that all of these flinging and popping noises I keep hearing around me are bullets and they are not far away."

A few Soldiers fighting along side Airman Boggs relocated to a new position along Hesco barriers, but Airman Boggs remained in place.

"There is no way I'm going to let these guys shoot my people while we are defending our base," he said. "I don't know how many people are out there, but the answer is probably not very many, considering we got there fast. For the first time, I clicked my gun on fire and just start blasting away. Burst, burst, burst, burst up and down the wood line."

The firefight continued but Airman Boggs said it was difficult to engage the enemy because they had dug defensive fighting positions on the edge of the wood line.

"I could see the twinkles moving around from time to time," he recalled. "I remember it being loud and I couldn't hear anything. Then all of a sudden some dude grabs me, pulls me to the ground and says, 'hey, all of those bullets whizzing around are trying to kill you.' So I said, 'then we better shoot back before they kill us.' I got back up and realized for the first time that I was not the only person on the line anymore."

Airman Boggs said once the fighting began to die down, a familiar roar in the sky signaled the end of the battle.

"I saw an F-15 come down, sweep and come screaming by. The belly of the plane was only a few stories off the ground. I'm standing there, the only Air Force guy amongst Army, and I yell, 'That's my branch! That was my branch!'"

Although no US casualties resulted from the firefight, Airman Boggs said two Afghan National Guard soldiers were wounded. Six insurgents were killed. Conflicting reports had the terrorist force ranging from 12 to 40 fighters. Airman Boggs said the three months of training at an Army Reserve post prior to deployment gave him the knowledge and preparation to assist in defending the FOB, but he said most of his reaction came from instinct.

"When I see old World War II stories like Band of Brothers and they are talking about their experiences and say 'It is horrifying looking back, but at the time, we were just surviving,'" he said. "When I heard, 'we need more guys at the front,' I thought to myself, 'I'm a guy. I can be at the front,' completely forgetting I don't have a useful anything with me" he said. "Once the adrenaline hit, it was all autopilot. There was no time to think about being scared."