Pope Airman to Receive High Honor

SSgt. Zachary Rhyner, a combat controller at Pope AFB, N.C., will receive the Air Force Cross March 10 at a ceremony in the Pentagon. Rhyner, a member of Air Force Special Operations Command’s 21st Special Tactics Squadron, is being honored for his heroic actions on April 6, 2008, in Afghanistan’s Shok Valley, said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz Feb. 26 during his address at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla. Rhyner, a senior airman at the time, was with a group of US and Afghan special forces that deployed in rugged high terrain to assault an insurgent stronghold. Approaching the target, “all hell broke loose,” as the team came under devastating fire on all sides from a large group of insurgents in elevated and protected positions, said Schwartz. “Courageously moving into position without regard for his own life, [Rhyner] returned fire with his rifle to cover his wounded teammates while they were extracted from the line of fire,” explained Schwartz. And, although shot three times and seriously wounded in his leg, Rhyner called in more than 50 air strikes during the six-hour battle to prevent the team from being overrun. “Zack, it’s a wonderful thing you did and how proud you make us all,” said Schwartz. (For more, read the Fayetteville Observer’s Feb. 27 report and December 2008 AFPS report)