Tech. Sgt. Cody Smith, a combat controller with the 26th Special Tactics Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico, received the Silver Star Friday for his heroism in Afghanistan last year.
Smith, who was selected as Air Force Times’ Airman of the Year earlier in 2019, was presented the nation’s third highest medal for gallantry against an enemy in combat by Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, head of Air Force Special Operations Command, during a ceremony at Cannon, the 24th Special Operations Wing said. Smith fought for hours — despite sustaining gunshots to his body armor, a nearby mortar blast, and a rocket-propelled grenade strike — to save the lives of his fellow troops during an Oct. 14, 2018, ambush in a village in Faryab province.
“Among us there are people who step up to do truly heroic things,” Col. Matt Allen, commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing, said during the ceremony. “People who have been called upon by history to accomplish extraordinary actions. People like Cody Smith.”
Four F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots who flew overhead during that day’s battle — Col. Corey Ketsel, Lt. Col. Eric Cleveringa, Lt. Col. Josh Wika and Lt. Col. Carl Palmberg, all of the 114th Fighter Wing from the South Dakota Air National Guard — attended the ceremony, as did the Green Beret who was his ground force commander.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity to see those guys again and shake their hands,” Smith said in an Air Force release. “Largely the reason why I’m still here is because we had the support of those guys. They were incredibly competent in their actions and they had a sense of calm that eased me on the ground and that gave us the ability to put those effects down on the battlefield quickly and efficiently.”
Despite sustaining multiple injuries that left him with a concussion, he twice declined medical care and kept fighting to prevent Taliban forces from overrunning his team’s position “with no regard for his own personal safety,” the Air Force said.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Smith said he shrugged off medical care and kept fighting because he knew his teammates were relying on him to call in airstrikes and get them out alive.
“We needed to work as a team, and that took every member on the battlefield,” Smith said. “There was no one there that could step in as the [joint terminal attack controller] and fill my specific role, and I knew that having the ability to communicate with our aircraft and deliver airstrikes was paramount to our safety and our ability to maneuver through this ambush.”
Smith said that the recognition he’s received in recent months has been an honor — but also one that’s been humbling. He hopes the recognition he’s received serves to draw more attention to the extraordinary things special tactics airmen regularly do.
“Amongst my peers, I don’t feel that I am anything remarkable or special,” Smith said. “I feel undeserving of a lot of the recognition, because I know so many people before me and around me, and teammates that I have worked with that do incredible things each and every time they step outside of the wire.”
In the release, Smith gave his joint team credit for the Silver Star.
"My actions are not my own and the amount of effort that was on the battlefield that day and the actions that were taken by my Army teammates was nothing short of incredible,” Smith said.
Smith plans to deploy again in the near future.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.