Air Force Cross presentation

Tech Sgt. Daniel Keller receives the Air Force Cross from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- He braved enemy gunfire, risking his own life to rescue his fellow troops. Now, an airman stationed in Louisville has received one of the nation's highest honors.

At a ceremony at the Kentucky National Guard on Friday, Tech Sgt. Daniel Keller received the Air Force Cross, an award second only to the Medal of Honor, for combat valor.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein honored Keller for heroism displayed in Afghanistan.

“The Air Force Cross is the highest medal that I as chief or the service secretary can award,” Goldfein said. “It's for extraordinary courage under fire.” 

Keller and his special operations unit had already been fighting ISIS insurgents for 15 hours on Aug. 16, 2017, when he was knocked down by an improvised explosive device.

“It was a really bad day for a lot of really great Americans,” Keller said.

But Keller kept fighting.

According to the award citation, “Keller executed air to ground engagements while returning fire, repulsing an enemy assault less than 150 meters away. Sgt. Keller helped move 13 critically wounded casualties to a helicopter landing zone under a hail of enemy fire.” 

Keller was asked where he found it in himself to do what he did.

“I think most of that comes from your love for your brothers," he said. "That's who those guys are. They're your brothers."

Family, friends and colleagues looked on as Keller was recognized as one of America's best. But Keller tried to turn the attention away from himself.

“Guys are still getting hurt and still getting killed, and there are still a lot of people what want to do ill to us, America,” Keller said. “If it enlightens people to that, that's a win.”

Keller suffered a traumatic brain injury but was able to return to duty. He said the real heroes are those like his buddy, Aaron, who did not make it.

“For Aaron to lay down for us, his brothers, for his country, for his family — that's a hero,” Keller said. 

Keller joined an elite group. Only ten airmen have received the Air Force Cross since the Sept. 11 attack 18 years ago.

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I cover a range of stories for WDRB, but really enjoy tracking what's going on at our State Capitol. I grew up on military bases all over the world, but am a Kentuckian at heart. I'm an EKU alum, and have lived in Louisville for 30 years.