'We put hellfire into them'
Bronze Star with First Oak Leaf Cluster (for second Bronze Star with "V")
while serving with
8th Air Support Operations Flight, in support of special-operations forces
When then-Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert L. Zackery III and the rest of a special-operations task force neared one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces, Iraqi anti-aircraft guns filled the night sky with lethal streaks of light.
“Like an old World War II video,” Zackery, now 29 and a technical sergeant, recalled of the 2003 raid on the Tharthar palace complex northwest of Baghdad.
“Pitch black, dark sky, would light up every two seconds: boom, boom, boom,” said Zackery. “Explosions both ways. It was something out of a movie, honestly. I never experienced anything like that before.”
Within minutes it would be Zackery’s job to start directing airstrikes onto those anti-aircraft sites and other enemy positions, including a unit of Saddam’s Republican Guard nearby.
About 40 special-operations troops flew in aboard special ops-modified HH-60 Black Hawk and MH-47 Chinook helicopters, supported by various combat aircraft including A-10 Thunderbolts.
As part of an Air Force terminal attack control party, or TAC-P, Zackery’s job was to go in with ground troops and relay to pilots the information they needed to attack ground targets.
Zackery was a veteran of the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and had been awarded the Bronze Star with “V” device for his actions there. But this was his first mission in Iraq, and it led in part to his second Bronze Star with “V.”
The raiding party touched down around 3 a.m. Some troops dashed toward several four-story palace buildings and started clearing them floor by floor, while others concentrated on assaulting other parts of the complex.
Zackery, as planned, set himself up on the fourth story of one of the guest towers for the duration of the mission.
As he looked out across a road through night-vision goggles, he spotted an Iraqi pickup truck with armed men in the back, speeding toward the palace grounds.
He radioed two of the A-10s.
One swept to the attack, the pilot firing his 30 mm Gatling gun. Zackery saw sparks fly off the pavement around the truck, but nothing more, and thought the pilot had missed. In the next instant, the truck exploded in flames.
There is much more to this story, which should be learned about everywhere. Go read it over at Stars & Stripes "Heroes" series here.
Thank YOU for your service, Staff Sgt. Zackery.