Silver Star awarded for Mosul offensive

From the 24 SOW

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher Lewis, a combat controller with the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, receives the Silver Star medal from U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, during a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Florida, Jan. 19, 2018. Lewis received the Silver Star for his actions during the Mosul offensive in Iraq in 2016, during the course of which he engaged with enemies at close range multiple times and called in four precision airstrikes, providing his team crucial air coverage and eliminating more than 20 enemy forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Victor J. Caputo)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. —

The steel enforced car bomb barreled relentlessly toward the joint special operations team … it seemingly came from nowhere.

A Special Tactics operator, exposed in an open turret hatch, began to fire the Humvee-mounted M2 machinegun into the large pickup truck, as it hurtled closer and closer.

200 meters, 150 meters, 125 meters… finally, the operator triggered a massive detonation at 100 meters away.

The team was safe … for now.

Staff Sgt. Christopher Lewis, a combat controller with the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the Silver Star Medal during a ceremony hosted by Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, Jan. 19, 2018, here for his actions during the Mosul offensive in 2016.

“Every street was contested, every building was unsafe,” said Webb. “Chris epitomizes what we all strive to be in this command. I am extremely proud of him.”

Lewis was embedded as a joint terminal attack controller with a Naval Special Warfare Platoon during the opening days of the Mosul offensive on Oct. 20, 2016, in Iraq. The joint team was tasked with advising and assisting Kurdish Peshmerga forces expunging Da’esh fighters from strongholds and liberating the city.

“Chris is our go-to guy, he is one of our most experienced JTACs in the theater, and for that reason, we put him in our toughest spots,” said a Special Tactics officer who was Lewis’ team leader in garrison and expeditionary special tactics squadron commander. “Prior to the battle of Mosul, we actually hand-picked him as the most seasoned operator … I wanted Staff Sgt. Lewis to create the best force multipliers for the impending battle that we could.”

The day began at 2:30 a.m. with a 15 kilometer drive south to link up with the Peshmerga fighters. The convoy consisted of close to 50 vehicles, including tanks and up-armored bulldozers, which are designed to trigger roadside bombs and clear the path.

As the sun began to rise, around 7 a.m., the joint force began to receive indirect fires from the closest village to the forward line of troops. The automated .50 caliber turret system on Lewis’ vehicle became disabled.

In the midst of withering grenade, mortar and small arms fire, Lewis systemically engaged the enemy in multiple locations from the open turret. He held this vulnerable position for hours despite direct enemy fire impacted within inches of him.

During this time, Lewis simultaneously directed airstrikes from F-15 Eagles and B-52 Stratofortresses within 400 meters of the team’s positions before engaging the pickup truck-born IED, providing the cover and opportunity for the team to move out of harm’s way.

The convoy didn’t go far before being ambushed again by enemy fire from a concealed tunnel entrance only 100 meters away and detonating several IEDs, mortally wounding one U.S. service member.

Lewis leapt out of his vehicle without hesitation to assist his wounded teammate, and coordinated the casualty evacuation while providing medical care just feet away from an unexploded IED. He established a hasty helicopter landing zone and moved his severely wounded teammate to the extraction point while simultaneously working with other aircraft to assess and eliminate a second, vehicle-born threat before it reached his team.

Lewis’ calm, collected demeanor was apparent when he received the news of his nomination for the Silver Star.

“It was emotional at first, you really think about, or at least I thought about, ‘do you deserve this?’” said Lewis. “Obviously if it wasn’t for the proficiency of the aircrews overhead and the Navy Seal team, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. Being a combat controller and within the community, you’d like to think that any one of us could step in and fill that role and do what I did that day, and that’s just the level of professionalism and proficiency that we like to hold all of ourselves to.”

To read more about Lewis’ actions during the battle, read his write-up in Portraits in Courage.

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