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NEWS | Oct. 23, 2012

Airmen honored by college for heroism in Afghanistan

By Senior Airman Dennis Sloan Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

As the battle on the gridiron between the Clemson Tigers and the Virginia Tech Hokies paused for halftime, a story of heroism was broadcast over the Memorial Stadium speakers for some 80,000 people in attendance Oct. 20, 2012, at Clemson, S.C.

Capt. Michael Polidor and Capt. Justin Kulish, now B-2 Bomber pilots at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., watched the two teams battle it out before walking onto the field to be recognized for their heroic acts during a much different battle on a much different terrain - Afghanistan.

Rewind to October 2009, 70 American and Afghan soldiers at Combat Outpost Keating, a remote outpost in northeastern Afghanistan, about approximately 10 miles from the Pakistan border, laydown fire as more than 100 Taliban insurgents armed with AK-47's and grenade launchers ambushed the base.

With barbed wire being the only thing standing between them and the insurgents, the U.S. Soldiers quickly requested air support.

Air Force pilots from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, had just taken off for a routine mission when they were given the orders to stop insurgents from over running a nearby outpost. One of those pilots was Polidor, deployed from the 335th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron out of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., he raced over the mountainous terrain in his F-15E Strike Eagle to reach the battle that was raging below him.

"It looked like the Fourth of July down there," said Polidor. "They were taking fire from all directions, 360 degrees."

Polidor used his jet fighter's sensors to gauge the situation occurring 20,000 feet below him. Because of low-lying clouds, Polidor and his fellow Wingmen flying high in the sky were forced to rely solely on their jets advanced technological instruments to target insurgents on the ground.

As Polidor and his fellow F-15 pilots wreaked havoc on the insurgents by dropping bombs and firing rounds at them, A-10 Warthogs, B-1 Stealth Bombers and Army helicopters provided additional assistance.

Kulish was one of the B-1 pilots assigned to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing providing the vital close air support needed for the Soldiers on the ground.

"They were in danger of being completely overrun by insurgents," said Polidor. "It was our job to eliminate them."

What Polidor did not know, was that this battle would last for more than eight hours. When the dust settled around the remote outpost that lied in a valley surrounded by three mountains, eight American Soldiers had made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country. Three Afghan soldiers had lost their lives in the fight with several more American and Afghan Soldiers wounded.

Nearly 100 insurgents were killed and the attempted overrun of the remote outpost was over. A total of 20 bombs were dropped on the battlefield that day with several thousand rounds hurled at the insurgents as well. Of the 20 bombs dropped Oct. 3, 2009, in Afghanistan, Polidor was responsible for four of them and had fired 170 rounds from his F-15.

Fast forward to Oct. 20, 2012, Polidor and Kulish stand on the 50-yard line of the Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C., where more than 80,000 people clap in appreciation after hearing their heroic stories.

"Clemson fans have been amazing to us and it is an honor to be here on this field today," said Polidor.

While Polidor was being honored on the field, he met with Clemson wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez who had just finished battling it out on the field against the Virginia Tech Hokies. Though Polidor and Rodriguez had never met in person until now, their paths had crossed just a few years earlier. The day Polidor was raining down bombs and bullets on the insurgents in that Afghanistan valley, Rodriguez, a sergeant in the Army at the time, was one of the American Soldiers fighting for his life on the ground.

"I have never met someone who was on the ground that day," said Polidor.

Polidor and Rodriguez met up after the game and spoke about the battle.

"It was very revealing to get his side of the story and from his perspective," said Polidor. "They fought hard and we made sure the insurgents never reached the base."

They hugged one another and then Rodriguez ran off the field to meet back with his team.

Polidor received the Distinguished Flying Cross in 2010 for his heroism on that fateful day in Afghanistan.