Tech. Sgt. Daniel P. Keller Earns Air Force Cross For Valor In Afghanistan
by U.S. Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Joshua Horton
September 14, 2019
Tech. Sgt. Daniel P. Keller, a combat controller in the Kentucky
Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the
Air Force Cross during a ceremony on September 13, 2019 for his heroic actions
on a battlefield in Afghanistan.
Keller earned the combat
award ... second only to the Medal of Honor ... for gallantry in
action against an enemy of the United States during his
participation in Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
September 13, 2019 - Air Force Chief of Staff
Gen. David L. Goldfein (left) shakes hands with Tech. Sgt.
Daniel Keller, a combat controller in the 123rd Special
Tactics Squadron, during a ceremony at the Kentucky Air
National Guard Base in Louisville, KY. Earlier
in the ceremony, Goldfein presented Keller with the Air
Force Cross, which Keller earned for valor on the
battlefield in Afghanistan. (U.S. Air National Guard photo
by Dale Greer)
“Only 10 Airmen since 9/11 have received this honor,”
said Gen. David L. Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, who presented
the medal in a hangar at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base. “We
never know when Airmen like Dan will risk everything for a fellow
teammate in a really bad situation, but that’s exactly what he did.
“As your chief, it gives me great strength to know that the
special tactics community will always make the impossible seem
effortlessly possible,” Goldfein continued. “This is a great day for
our Air Force, and may God bless this nation and those like Tech.
Sgt. Keller who always have, and always will, defend her.
“I’d like to say these events and actions are remarkable, because I
truly feel that to be the case, but I doubt you’d agree, Dan,”
Goldfein added. “I think you’d probably say you were just doing your
job — doing your job like so many are today who are still taking the
fight to our enemies in faraway lands. Congratulations, Dan.”
While serving as a joint terminal attack controller attached to
a combined joint special operations assault force on Aug. 16, 2017,
Keller embarked on a clearance operation in Nangarhar Province,
Afghanistan, against 350 Islamic State fighters. After 15 hours of
sustained contact, the assault team struck an improvised explosive
device, killing four personnel and wounding 31.
September 13, 2019 - Air
Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein (left) pumps his
fist during the playing of the Air Force Song at a ceremony
held at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville,
KY. Earlier in the ceremony, Goldfein presented Tech. Sgt.
Daniel Keller (right), a combat controller in the 123rd
Special Tactics Squadron, with the Air Force Cross, which
Keller earned for valor on the battlefield in Afghanistan.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Horton)
Less than 10
feet away, Keller was knocked over by the force of the blast,
resulting in traumatic brain injury. Struggling to his feet, he
executed air-to-ground engagements while returning fire, repulsing
an enemy assault less than 150 meters away.
“I don’t remember
much,” Keller said. “Initially, I thought I was blind. Everything
went black. Then I got up and realized I wasn’t blind, it was just a
massive black cloud of smoke and debris. Your ears are ringing, but
you could just hear screaming — just guys screaming and gunfire.”
Keller helped move 13 critically wounded casualties to a
helicopter landing zone “under a hail of enemy fire,” according to
the award citation. 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.
helicopter departed, the ground force commander aborted the mission.
In spite of his injuries, Keller loaded wounded personnel into
vehicles and volunteered to walk 2 1/2 kilometers back to a combat
outpost, escorting other wounded teammates. During this movement, he
repulsed a three-sided enemy attack by returning fire and
simultaneously passing enemy positions to another joint terminal
attack controller, allowing friendly forces to break contact. After
arriving back at the outpost, Keller was 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, and
resulted in an estimated 50 enemy killed in action,” the citation
Keller said the experience has provided him with
motivation to hone his skills even further.
“It drives me to
want to be better at my job,” Keller said. “After living through
that sort of stuff and seeing what we can do as the enabler to these
special forces teams, I know how important it is for us to be really
squared away at our job and to provide service to them at an expert
Keller’s accomplishments on the battlefield are not
surprising to Chief Master Sgt. Aaron May, chief enlisted manager
for the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron.
“You see it every
day here,” May said. “You see him always training harder and looking
forward. When he got there, he was ready. When it came time to do
that job, he was ready. Dan’s been a top performer the whole time,
and I’m happy that’s he’s being recognized.
“His appetite to
just go down range and do what our mission is — it’s really unique,”
May continued. “His work ethic, his dedication and his foresight to
see what’s coming — Dan’s constantly pushing forward.”
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin also took the stage to praise Keller during
the award ceremony.
September 13, 2019 - Kentucky
Gov. Matt Bevin (far right), Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice (second
from right), director of the Air National Guard, and Army
Maj. Gen. Stephen R. Hogan (third from right), adjutant
general of the Kentucky National Guard, applaud Tech. Sgt.
Daniel Keller, a combat controller in the 123rd Special
Tactics Squadron, during his Air Force Cross Medal ceremony at the Kentucky Air
National Guard Base in Louisville, KY. (U.S. Air National
Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Horton)
“Among us, there are people who step up
and do truly heroic things,” Bevin said. “There was within him an
innate ability to step up and go above and beyond.
honor to know you.” Bevin said to Keller. “As somebody who loves
this country, I’m grateful to you for answering the call.”
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