3 Minutes to Change the World

March 12, 2019

Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Gutierrez knew the situation on the ground would be dire if he died. 

He and his team of 30 Army Special Forces members and Afghan National Army commandos were surrounded by enemy fighters in a Taliban-sympathetic village in Herat Province, Afghanistan, on Oct. 5, 2009.

As the combat controller, Gutierrez was the only qualified radio operator communicating with airmen overhead providing close-air support and battlefield surveillance during the firefight.

But an armor-piercing round had entered his left shoulder, and was causing trauma in his chest. "I thought, 'I have three minutes before I'm going to die,'" he recalled later. "I've got to do something big. ... I'm going to change the world in three minutes."

Gutierrez refused to remove his body armor, which held his radio, to have his wounds treated, briefly relenting only to allow a medic to perform a procedure to release the growing pressure on his collapsed lung and enable him to breath and speak again. 

Then, he got back on the radio, ensuring surveillance coverage for the safe return of the ground force team.

Gutierrez was awarded the Air Force Cross for extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, according to the medal citation.

An airman and a soldier smile for a photo.
Lifesavers
Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Gutierrez, left, poses for a photo in 2011 with Army Sgt. 1st Class Mike Jones, the medic who twice saved his life during a 2009 mission in Afghanistan.
Photo By: Courtesy of Devon Ravine
VIRIN: 111031-F-QV998-001