Lt. Gen. Eric E. Fiel, Air Force Special Operations Command commander, poses Nov. 13 with Maj. F. Damon Friedman, AFSOC special tactics officer, second from right, after presenting him with a Bronze Star medal with Valor at Hurlburt Field, Fla. Friedman was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor for his actions against enemy forces in Afghanistan in April 2010. Also pictured is his wife, Dayna, and son, Hunter. (Master Sgt. Carlotta Holley / Air Force)
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In a northeastern Afghanistan outpost so perilous U.S. troops called it the Valley of Death, one mistake could mean one grave.
“Just that thought alone kept me up,” said Maj. Damon Friedman, the lead joint terminal attack controller during an April 2010 mission to close the Army’s Korangal Outpost in Kunar Province.
More than 40 American lives had been lost in the area since the start of the war. The Army opened its outpost in the far-flung valley in 2006. Four years later, the military no longer considered its efforts there sustainable. Friedman, who was temporarily assigned to two Army Special Forces teams, called the nearly weeklong mission the most important of his career.
On Nov. 13, the Air Force awarded Friedman the Bronze Star with Valor.
According to the medal citation: “For seven days, often under direct and indirect hostile fire and with complete disregard for his own safety,” Friedman called in air strikes for more than 200 aircraft and “directed the delivery of 4,000 pounds of bombs, AC-130 rounds and repeated rocket and strafe attacks.”
Friedman did not sleep for the first three days and nights of the mission. Twice, he called in strikes to targets within 100 meters of friendly forces. When the enemy inserted itself between two groups of U.S. forces in an effort to confuse them, Friedman called a critically timed cease-fire. No U.S. lives were lost during the mission.
“For such a dangerous place, that’s a miracle,” Friedman said.
The citation also credits him with killing or wounding 40 enemies. “I had never dropped a bomb before this battle,” Friedman said in a telephone interview from Hurlburt Field, Fla.
“I had a very strong situational awareness. I knew that was key to the entire operation, to know exactly where the friendly forces were and exactly where the enemy was,” he said. “It was totally a team effort. There were three other combat controllers doing the job. I just happened to be the lead JTAC.”
In January 2012, Friedman put another aspect of his military training to use — this time much closer to home.
Friedman, then the director of operations at the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Field, N.C., had just dropped his son off at school when he witnessed a pickup slam into a light pole, launch into the air and smash into several trees.
“This accident occurs right in front of me,” he recalled. Friedman stopped his car and ran toward the truck. The cabin was crunched like a tin can, and the engine was burning, he said. The driver was coming in and out of consciousness.
“Her femur bone was snapped,” he said. “She was bleeding out.”
Friedman had to reach through the back of the cabin to get to the woman, who was pinned in the wreckage. He took her vital signs, used her clothing to control the bleeding and stabilized her back. Friedman remained with the woman after medics arrived, holding the woman up to prevent a spinal injury while the Jaws of Life cut through the truck door. While first responders worked, Friedman noticed a psalm tattooed on the woman’s arm and asked her about her faith and her family. “I prayed with her. I asked God to just let this woman see things through and survive this moment,” he recalled. After the extraction, “they took her onto a helicopter, and then she flew away.” Friedman said he never learned what happened to her. He still wonders whether she made it.
Friedman grew up in Los Angeles and Tampa, Fla. He became the first person in his family to join the military after he saw a book on the Army Rangers while browsing the shelves of Barnes & Noble. But Friedman said he’d always felt a sense of responsibility to his country. He also wanted to be part of something bigger than himself.
He spent five years in the Marines before joining the Air Force in 2005.
“I’m an American, ma’am. I was born in this great country. And this country has done everything to protect me and provide for me,” Friedman said.