Guardsman to be awarded Airman’s Medal for Heroism

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WTVQ/Press Release) — A special operations Airman from the Kentucky Air National Guard will receive the Air Force’s highest medal for non-combat heroism Saturday in recognition of his actions to save human life following a traffic accident near Louisville in 2018.

And the airman is no stranger to heroism, having received the Air Force Cross for saving dozens of lives during service in Afghanistan.

Brig. Gen. Hal Lamberton, the adjutant general of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, will present the Airman’s Medal to Master Sgt. Daniel P. Keller, a combat controller in the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, during a ceremony at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base here. The award is bestowed on service members who voluntarily display heroism in situations other than combat, usually at the risk of their own lives.

Keller earned the medal for his actions on the night of Nov. 16, 2018, when he came upon a roadside accident involving the head-on collision of two vehicles on a small, two-lane bridge. Keller immediately performed medical assessments on the passengers in the first vehicle before racing to the second to extract a passenger as the sport utility vehicle caught fire and began to fill with smoke.

Unable to open the doors and with complete disregard for his own safety, Keller broke the rear window and entered the burning SUV. Without being able to see, he made his way to the driver while holding his breath, but the wreckage had trapped the driver’s legs. With only moments to spare, Keller “quickly developed a hasty plan and enlisted the help of two bystanders,” according to the award citation. Together, they squeezed in between the burning vehicle and the bridge railing to extract the driver through a window.

“After moving the unconscious man to safety and initiating cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Sergeant Keller heard calls for help,” the citation continues. “He again returned to the crash site and found a bystander trapped between the bridge and burning wreckage.”

Keller quickly pulled the woman free and moved himself and others to cover as ammunition in the vehicle began to discharge from the heat. He then continued providing medical care until local emergency responders arrived on the scene.

Special Tactics is the Air Force and Air National Guard’s special operations cadre, leading personnel recovery, global access, precision-strike missions and battlefield medical care. As a combat controller, Keller is one of the most highly trained personnel in the U.S. military. Combat controllers regularly deploy undetected into hostile environments to establish assault zones or airfields while simultaneously conducting air traffic control, fire support, command and control, direct action, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense and humanitarian assistance.

Meanwhile, in September 2019, Weller was awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions during a 2017 combat mission against the Islamic State in eastern Afghanistan.

Keller, assigned at the time as a joint terminal attack controller for Combined Joint Special Operations Air Component Afghanistan, is credited with helping to save the lives of 130 members of his assault force who came under fire during a clearance mission against 350 ISIS fighters in Nangarhar Province on Aug. 16, 2017.

Keller was awarded the medal by Air Force chief of staff Gen. David Goldfein in Louisville.

The Air Force Cross is the nation’s second-highest medal for combat valor, only after the Medal of Honor, and is “bestowed on members of the armed forces who display extraordinary heroism while engaged in action against an enemy of the United States,” according to a release from the Kentucky Air National Guard.

“[Keller] controlled the most aircraft, he dropped the most bombs — by a long shot I might add — and saved the men he was with,” Goldfein said during the Friday ceremony.

The award citation states that Keller helped move 13 critically wounded casualties to a helicopter landing zone “under a hail of enemy fire.”

“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 causalities,” according to the citation.

Keller then “repulsed a three-sided enemy attack by returning fire with his M-4 and passing enemy positions on to another joint terminal attack controller, allowing friendly forces to break contact” with the enemy. He later had to be medically evacuated for his injuries.

“His personal courage, quick actions and tactical expertise whilst under fire directly contributed to the survival of the 130 members of his assault force, including 31 wounded in action,” the citation said.

It’s estimated that 50 ISIS fighters were killed during the operation.

“We never know when airmen like Dan will risk everything for a teammate in a really bad situation,” Goldfein said, adding, “He didn’t give it a second thought or a moment’s hesitation.”

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