“If it wasn’t for Zach, I wouldn’t be here.”


(USAF photo)

Combat Air Controllers get two years of training before being assigned to operational commands. They know how to parachute, how to infiltrate behind enemy lines, and how to fight. They usually deploy with special forces in hostile country. (Fayetteville Observer).

ZACHARY J. RHYNER is one of them. On a spring morning in 2008 in the mountains of Afghanistan, he needed just about every one of his special skills to save his 100-man team from being decimated.

He was part of a special forces unit on the trail of a high-value target. To get there they would have to scale the 60 foot cliffs surrounding the Shok Valley. But as they climbed they were attacked by a large force of insurgents. They had expected to find around 70 bad guys; instead they were ambushed by hundreds. “…we were 100 to 200 feet beneath the enemy, like fish in a barrel,” said Sergeant Gutierrez, one of Rhyner’s teammates. (Air Force Public Affairs)

Rhyner was injured minutes after the attack began, but he neglected his wounds to call in air strikes and to protect other injured soldiers. The team had been split by the terrain, and Rhyner’s group was trapped and surrounded. At times the enemy approached to within 40 feet, and twice the entire force was in danger of being overrun.

Ignoring his wounds, Rhyner continued to fight. He kept the enemy at bay by firing his M-4, all the while calling in air strikes and trying to evacuate his wounded teammates.

The entire battle raged for over six hours. “Sergeant Rhyner called in a total of 4,570 rounds of cannon fire, nine Hellfire missiles, 162 rockets, 12 500-pound bombs and one 2,000-pound bomb, constantly engaging the enemy with his M-4 rifle to deter their advance.” (USAF)

In the end, forty insurgents were killed, and over a hundred wounded. No Americans died, and all the wounded were evacuated. The Air Force official release stated, “Sergeant Rhyner was directly credited with the entire team’s survival due to his skill and poise under intense fire.”

“If it wasn’t for Zach, I wouldn’t be here,” said Sergeant Gutierrez.

Staff Sergeant Zachary Rhyner – an Air Force Cross recipient – is our hero of the week.

A complete description of the battle can be found in the Northshore Journal and Defenselink.


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