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´╗┐Air Force combat controllers receive Silver Stars GALLERY

shared the stage with Air Force Staff Sgt. Dale Young, a younger combat controller who also earned a Silver Star.

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They came under immediate fire, which continued for 94 hours, according to the citation for Young's award.

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He coordinated with other air controllers on different rooftops in the area who were also spotting enemy locations and helping direct aircraft to attack from above.

Over an 18 day battle in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, more than two years ago, Tech Sgt. Ismael Villegas dodged bullets and bombs in heavy rain and sleet.

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Young said Villegas prepared him for his first deployment in 2007, for which he received a Bronze Star.

coordinated a medical evacuation. When they determined the location of the Adidas Climacool Orange sniper, he directed two 2,000 pound bombs to be dropped on the compound, which decimated it, he said.

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and other close air support planes that were flying overhead to drop 14,000 pounds of ammunition on the enemy and free the troops.

Villegas had overseen Young at Young's first assignment, which made the July 22 ceremony special for them both.

In February 2011, the air combat controller assigned to the 24th Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field was working alongside some Army Special Forces troops in one of the most deadly areas in Afghanistan.

Villegas' job was to coordinate all their air assets about 40 aircraft that included gunships, helicopters and drones.

When a rocket propelled grenade struck a Special Forces soldier next to Villegas, he laid down so he could move to assist the wounded man, all the while returning fire at the enemy. He pulled the man behind a wall and placed himself between the man and the enemy to provide cover while directing aircraft to fly close enough to disrupt the enemy's assault and allow his team to escape with the wounded soldier.

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When he received the award recently at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, he D Rose Blue And Black

At one point, an air controller who was a friend of Young was shot by a sniper.

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"There was a lot of sleep deprivation," the 35 year old said recently. "That was one of the hardest things. The physical pain is one thing, but the lack of sleep is a little bit more painful."

At one point he was wounded when a rocket propelled grenade launched from about 30 feet away struck a wall in front of him.

He coordinated 11 aircraft at a time in an area about 5 nautical miles wide, he said.

His actions resulted in 21 enemy dead.

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Combat controllers are among the most combat decorated in the Air Force. They are certified air traffic controllers who deploy with special tactics squadrons into combat zones.

It was his second Silver Star, which made him only the second airman to be awarded two of the medals and the only one on active duty.

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On the night of May 19, 2009, Young and a team of Army Special Forces soldiers entered a small village in Helmand Province that was a safe haven for drug traffickers.

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See an Air Force slideshow of the recipients. >>

"I looked up to him. He'd been through all the training and had deployed before," said the 29 year old Young, who is stationed at Lackland. "Those are the guys you want to emulate.

At one point, when one of the units was under attack and pinned down, he ran toward them, completely exposing himself to a barrage of enemy fire, in order to determine where the enemy was located.

"To me, all this, this award, is a testament to the guys who have gone before me, guys just like Villegas that really care about their teammates and want to see everybody do their best and live up to their potential and even surpass that at moments."

For those and other acts of bravery during the battle, Villegas recently earned the Silver Star.

The area hadn't seen any coalition troops for some time, and Villegas and the other soldiers didn't know exactly what to expect. They thought the mission might last a week.

He was on a rooftop where he could coordinate air support, but was under constant fire from guns, rockets and rocket propelled grenades, sometimes from as close as 30 feet.

Young was assigned to the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron at Hurlburt Field at the time. He was serving as the lead combat controller for about 100 troops.

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