Mettle earns local airmen medals

Two Washougal Air Force sergeants receive Bronze Stars for service in Afghanistan

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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PORTLAND — Military job titles don't always reflect the scope of such specialties as combat controller. The Bronze Star citations for two local Air Force sergeants, who served with special operations units in Afghanistan, offer a pretty good job description.

Staff Sgt. David Albright received a Bronze Star with valor for heroism under fire following a Taliban ambush.

Tech. Sgt. Jeff Dolezal received a Bronze Star for his performance during a six-month deployment in Afghanistan.

The two Washougal residents were among six members of the Oregon Air National Guard's 125th Special Tactics Squadron honored in a medal ceremony Wednesday.

"Nobody does what these guys do," said Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, head of Air Force Special Operations Command, before awarding the medals.

As the "special tactics" part of the title hints, the 125th works with Army Special Forces units, Navy SEALS and Marine special operations teams. They control bombing and strafing operations from the ground when their units need combat air support.

"When you need to getcha some air power," said Brig. Gen. Steven Gregg, commander of the Oregon Air National Guard, these are the guys who call it in.

That's what Albright did when his convoy was ambushed by Taliban forces in June. Albright radioed for aerial support and then guided the attack planes toward their targets.

That was the controller part of the job; Albright also took part in the combat, firing his truck-mounted machine gun and his grenade launcher to help keep the insurgents at a distance.

The citation noted that "Sergeant Albright's initiative, calm under extreme circumstances and superb control of close-air support … prevented his convoy from being overwhelmed."

That day started out as a search for anti-aircraft weapons and a Taliban camp in the eastern part of Afghanistan, Albright said.

"We found the Taliban camp and captured some dudes," Albright said. "As we were leaving, word got out" and other Taliban fighters set up an ambush.

"The terrain was terrible," he said. When the convoy's lead vehicle entered the kill zone, "They started lighting us up. They had the high ground," as well as "guys in a tree line firing at us."

It was time to call in air support.

"I'm carrying two radios, a GPS and a laser range-finder," Albright said. "When we started getting hit, I generated coordinates with the laser range-finder. When we called 'troops in contact.' I think we had aircraft in eight to 10 minutes."

They were two A-10 "Warthogs." With a heavily armored cockpit and a range of weaponry for close-in attacks, "They're like an airborne tank," Albright said.

"They knew we were taking heavy fire, spotted the enemy and started bringing rounds."

Albright coordinated three attack runs as the Warthogs strafed the Taliban positions with their 30 mm, seven-barrel Gatling-style guns.

Albright also was returning fire with a machine gun and a grenade launcher, at enemy fighters fewer than 150 meters away.

None of his team members was wounded in the engagement, said

Albright, whose April-to-September tour was his second deployment.

Both airmen had family members with them at the ceremony at Portland Air National Guard Base.

After the formalities, Albright was joined on the stage by his wife Polly, their two-month-old son Ruger, and David's father, Russell Albright.

Dolezal was accompanied by his wife Licia and their daughters, Aolani, 41/2, and Giada, 13 months.

Dolezal's Bronze Star citation noted a range of contributions from April to October 2012.

Dolezal controlled 170 fixed-wing and rotary aircraft. He participated in six operations against Taliban forces, and coordinated six combat medical evacuations.

On five occasions, Dolezal spotted terrorists in the act of planting roadside bombs.

"A lot of hours with surveillance aircraft," was how Dolezal described that process.

As Dolezal reflected on his third deployment, he summed it up in just a few words.

"Getting guys out alive was the best part," he said.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history; tom.vogt@columbian.com.