Legendary Air Force Combat Controller Joe O'Keef is known for a particularly incredible feat. Over the course of five days, he directed hundreds of air strikes totaling more than 688,000 pounds of explosive ordinance.
The bombs, whose total weight exceeded twice that of the Statue of Liberty, were dropped on an Afghanistan valley full of Al Qaeda insurgents.
According to retired Air Force special operations officer Dan Schilling's book "Alone at Dawn: Medal of Honor Recipient John Chapman and the Untold Story of the World's Deadliest Special Operations Force," this was the most ordinance called in by any one operator in the "history of airborne warfare."
Combat Controllers Job
U.S. Air Force Combat Controller's are special operations, combat airman who coordinate air support for other special operations units. They work with Navy SEALS, Army Special Forces, British SAS, and even CIA teams.
In this historical incident, O'Keefe was working with a CIA team attempting to access Tora Bora, a system of caves near Pakistan on the Afghanistan border. It was only three months after the 9/11 attacks and the CIA was trying to find, capture, or kill Osama bin Laden.
It was rumored that he was in Tora Bora, though it turned out not to be the case, at least at the moment of the CIA operation.
O'Keefe, Dan Schilling, a Delta Force operator, and a couple of CIA officers were tasked with scoping the area out and hopefully identify the high value target.
"The chief of base looks over me and my two counterparts and says, 'isn't this what you do?'" O'Keefe said CIA station chief Gary Bernsten asked him and a few others. "We're like 'fuck yeah, every day and twice on Sunday.'"
Scoping The Caves
The elite team from different units moved out on December 3, 2001. They made it into the mountains heading toward Tora Bora assisted by the Northern Alliance, a group of anti-Taliban fighters.
The Americans drove in a Northern Alliance truck dressed as Afghan's and armed with AK-47s. In order to make it to their observation post, they eventually had to exit the truck and climb to higher ground.
From there, they could see the Milawa Valley, which was crawling with insurgents and impossible to get any closer. O'Keefe estimates there were many thousands of Al Queda in the area, so the team took advantage of the situation and started directing airstrike after airstrike.
“I’m always thankful I was on this team and not their team. Because the advantage was severely tilted in our favor.”Joe O'Keefe
They dropped as many bombs as they could, killing countless Al Queda fighters over a 5 day period.
Check out this video demonstrating what kind of men serve in the U.S. Air Force Combat Controller Teams: