Watch the Pentagon Channel today at 2 pm EST to watch Air Force leadership award Staff Sgt. Zachary J. Rhyner the Air Force Cross. The ceremony was March 10, 2009 at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. Click “Watch it Live” in the top corner of the channel. Only 192 Air Force Crosses have been awarded.
Sgt. Rhyner, a member of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron from Pope Air Force Base, N.C., received the medal for uncommon valor during Operation Enduring Freedom. Sgt. Rhyner was also awarded a Purple Heart. For more and photos, click here.
The Air Force Cross is second only to the Medal of Honor, and is awarded by the president. Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley presented Sergeant Rhyner the Air Force Cross for his actions during an intense 6.5-hour battle in Shok Valley, Afghanistan, April 6, 2008. The Air Force has not awarded the decoration in more than six years.
“Your actions are now and forever woven into the rich fabric of service, integrity and excellence that has connected generations of America’s Airmen since the very inception of airpower,” Secretary Donley said to Sergeant Rhyner.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz also presented Sergeant Rhyner with the Purple Heart. General Schwartz said special forces Soldiers lived to tell the story of the Shok Valley battle thanks to the courage, tenacity, teamwork, as well as the invaluable and selfless efforts of Sergeant Rhyner.
Sergeant Rhyner coordinated more than 50 aerial attacks to continuously repel the enemy during the beleaguering battle that occurred during his first deployment. According to the decoration citation, Sergeant Rhyner “provided suppressive fire with his M-4 rifle against enemy fire while fellow teammates were extracted from the line of fire.”
“The team survived this hellish scene … not by chance, not by luck and not by the failings of a weak or timid foe,” General Schwartz said.
For the same battle, an unprecedented 10 special forces Soldiers received Silver Stars, the Army’s third highest award for valor in combat.