An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

AFSOC combat controller named one of 12 Outstanding Airmen of Year

  • Published
  • By Capt. Kristen Duncan
  • Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs
An Air Force Special Operations Command staff sergeant was recently named one of the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2010.

Staff Sgt. Robert Gutierrez Jr. is a combat controller with the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, Pope Air Force Base, N.C. He has deployed numerous times in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and most recently in 2009 served for three months in western Afghanistan before he was wounded in a harrowing battle with Taliban forces.

Calling himself the luckiest guy on earth, he said "(the bullet) curved around in my body, avoiding my heart."

The San Diego native performed heroically, killing the enemy at close range with his rifle and directing close air support strikes within 15 to 20 meters of his own position after being wounded in the chest by enemy gunfire.

"I was trying to tell the aircraft I was the only JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller) on the ground, and I knew I only had three minutes before I was going to die," Sergeant Gutierrez said. "I've seen it before and knew I only had a couple of minutes. A scurry of thoughts was going through my mind."

The first thought was of his pregnant wife and daughter.

The second thought was on the three minutes he had to do something for his unit, before it was too late. The specially trained battlefield Airman said he had been preparing for that moment his whole life.

While a medic was working on him, he called aircraft to the area for an immediate show of force. An F-16 did just that, knocking Taliban forces off the roofs nearby with the thrust of its engines. Struggling for breath, he removed his individual body armor and the medic treated him for a collapsed lung by inserting a 6-inch long decompression needle in his chest. Sergeant Gutierrez continued to give targeting information to the pilots while taking enemy fire.

Preparing to be outmanned and outgunned, his Special Forces team conserved ammo and managed to avoid the enemy's grenades and RPGs, which continued to get closer. Sergeant Gutierrez briefed the ground commander on their options, and they decided to call for danger close airstrikes using A-10C aircraft, deployed from the 354th Fighter Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

"Thank God for the pilot," he said. "He saved our lives. He came in perfectly on target."
The airstrikes were so close they blew out both his eardrums, but they allowed the entire team to exit safely, using the last strafing run as a cover. Coordinating his own medical evacuation airlift, Sergeant Gutierrez moved with his team one and a half kilometers to the pickup site, having to stop once for another chest decompression procedure.

With adrenalin finally slowing, he started losing consciousness at the pickup site. Having lost 5 ½ pints of blood, the medic administered an IV line. From Herat to Bagram Airfield to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Sergeant Gutierrez said he had exceptional care. Now back at Pope AFB, he is 85 to 90 percent better, thanks to the medical staff and the Special Operations Command Care Coalition office.

"I'm grateful for how great our nation is, and to everyone - especially the Special Tactics community - who has invested in me. They've invested tons of money and time in me, and I'm a direct reflection of my leadership and the 21st Special Tactics Squadron and what we bring to the fight, and I'm very thankful for them," he said. "I'm a product of what I've been taught and a product of AFSOC."

Sergeant Gutierrez has been honored with numerous awards and medals, to include two Bronze Stars with Valor.

Sergeant Gutierrez and the other 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year will be honored in Washington at the Air Force Association's fall symposium in September, where the AFSOC commander, Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster will be a featured speaker.