From left, Master Sgt. Rob Lee, Senior Airman Mike McCaffey and Tech. Sgt. Tavis Delaney coordinated close air support strikes on attacking Taliban insurgents. / Tavis Delaney. Courtesy photos
• Brookings native awarded Silver Star
"Exceptional gallantry in action … distinguished himself … routinely exposed himself to intense enemy fire … courage, dedication to duty, and personal sacrifice … saving the lives of his fellow soldiers … reflect distinct credit upon himself … ."
Those few graphic words appear in the citation accompanying the Silver Star Medal, our nation's third-highest award for military valor in combat, presented to Tech. Sgt. Tavis J. Delaney, 32, a Brookings native now serving in the Washington Air National Guard.
By design, such citations are written with brevity; they do not always capture the totality of the combat involved or the total actions of the person who earned the award.
However, in this instance, the intensity of the combat and its significance in America's war in Afghanistan are well-documented in detail in several media reports – as are Delaney's role and his heroism on one day in Afghanistan.
A report dated July 1, 2011, in the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, called the "Battle of Do Ab," fought the previous May 25, "the largest battle ever fought by members of the Washington Air National Guard, and one of the most significant battles in the last 10 years of the war in Afghanistan, according to soldiers who fought in the battle."
Needless to say, those soldiers bring the battle down to ground level perspective and tell of it as seen through their eyes.
Tech. Sgt. Delaney told his story in a recent telephone interview with The Brookings Register.
Into the valley
For Delaney, a joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) in Washington's 116th Air Support Operations Squadron, May 25, 2011, started out as an average day at his combat outpost. He was on his way from breakfast when he got word that he would accompany a coalition force of about 40 Afghan and 20 American troops into Do Ab in northeastern Afghanistan.
Delaney recounted that the insertion of the troops into the area followed two weeks of reports that "the Taliban had overtaken the Do Ab district center, which is basically a police station and like a county seat. Hey, the Taliban's here, the Taliban's taken over."
Delaney added, "The Army was sent up there to check it out and see if these guys are in the trouble they say they are. I went with them just in case things went really bad." They did.
The 60 coalition troops came into the very mountainous area in two Chinook helicopters and their egress from them was uneventful; but then "all hell broke loose."
"Right about the time that the rotor blades faded is when it started," Delaney said, "right when they knew that all hope of extraction was extinguished." The good guys found themselves outnumbered about 10 to I with the bad guys holding the high ground; and they were initially outgunned in what became a 12-hour firefight. But before the battle was over, American airpower would prove its worth and more than even the odds against the insurgents.
Everything in the inventory
Delaney and Senior Airman Mike McCaffrey, a fellow Guardsman and JTAC who also went in with the coalition troops, called in close air support (CAS). Using the latest tools of the trade in both direct and indirect communications and in GPS technology, they were able to bring both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to the scene: all four services contributed a total of 14 aircraft that put a combined total of 18 bombs on target. Delaney called that "pretty much everything in the inventory."
He also stressed that he and McCaffrey were greatly aided in their CAS efforts by Master Sgt. Rob Lee, also a member of the 116th, who was working out of a tactical operations center removed from Do Ab. Lee was vital in ensuring that some of Delaney's and McCaffrey's requests were forwarded up the chain of command.
Delaney explained that in going up against insurgents, a single bomb was usually enough to bring about their dispersal and they would break off contact. But, he added, this day, multiple bombs didn't prove to be enough; and the coalition position had been in danger of being outflanked and overrun.
Delaney requested additional air support that would be "danger-close," in effect "so close that the bomb fragments could have hit friendly troops as well as the enemy troops."
Ultimately, air power proved too much for the Taliban. The lost as many as 270 in what became for them a "valley of death."
Not a single coalition soldier was killed.
And on May 6, 2012, in a ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Tacoma, Wash., with two general officers present, Delaney's wife Courtney pinned the Silver Star Medal on her husband.
Isaiah 41:10, American air power
To date Delaney has four combat tours: one in Iraq and three in Afghanistan – "two Air Force trips, one Army trip, and one trip as a security specialist." In talking with him, one realizes that this is a faith-filled Christian man. That became especially clear when he talked to the Register about the two days at his "company outpost, or COP," a small, remote base prior to his going into Do Ab.
"I'm a Christian, without question," he said. "I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God actually used me, and there was no coincidence that I was there in that time and place."
Explaining further, Delaney pointed out that because his COP was "out in the weeds," small and remote, there was no permanent chaplain assigned. But in sort of circuit-rider fashion, a chaplain visited the COP on May 23.
Delaney recalled, "His message was that there are multiple books in the Bible; and every one of those books is about one man's life and how God used that man's life for his glory. And what's your story going to be – for God?
"I thought that was pretty cool. That was awesome."
The chaplain stayed over and preached again on May 24. Only Delaney and one other man attended. This time Delaney took away the message that "no matter what you're going up against, God can get you through it."
The chaplain gave each of a men a coin referencing Isaiah 41:10: "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
The next day looked to be routine with no missions planned; but, as noted above, he was coming back from breakfast when Delaney got the word that in less than an hour he would be with the troops headed for Do Ab. What would play out there that day Delaney sees as divine providence.
He explained, "There's no question in my mind whatsoever that God had that whole day planned out. He put me there for a reason, and he used me to overcome our enemies and make sure that everybody came home safely."
Delaney noted that the Taliban had every tactical advantage: 10 to 1 odds, control of the high ground and superior firepower.
But when the battle was over and the insurgent force decimated by American airpower, not a single member of the coalition force had been killed.
Goal: chief master sergeant
Tavis and Courthney Delaney live in California. They have a 2-year-old son; a second son is due this month.
Tavis cames from what could be called a military family: his father, Tom Delaney, served two tours of active duty in the Army and also served in the Illinois National Guard; his mother, Deb Delaney, served in the South Dakota Army National Guard; his sister, Keely, did a tour of active duty in the United States Navy.
Tavis Delaney's aspiration is to be a chief master sergeant, the highest enlisted rank in the Air Force and Air National Guard.
"I'll stay in pretty much until they kick me out," he said.
Delaney would also like to earn a degree in military history and teach.
Contact John Kubal at email@example.com.