Air Force Cross recipient soars with 'Eagles'

  • Published
  • By Ashley M. Wright
  • Air Force Special Operations Comman Public Affairs
Next to the signatures of the "Candy Bomber," a Tuskegee Airman, the sixth Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force and a Vietnam prisoner of war, Air Force Cross Recipient Tech. Sgt. Robert Gutierrez placed his name as the only current active duty enlisted Airmen to be named an "Eagle."

Two members of the Air Command and Staff College's Gathering of Eagles team visited here recently to lay the foundation for Gutierrez's experience as a member of a distinguished group of air power legends.

"I mean that is history in the books. Our young men and women read about that and inspire to do all that stuff. The big stories, what they have done for our nation, and then there is just me," said Gutierrez, a combat controller currently serving as a Special Tactics Training School instructor. "I'm defiantly honored."

Starting in 1982, students of Air Command and Staff College began the Gathering of Eagles, a yearlong, student-run research elective at the college, which collects, educates and advocates air, space and cyberspace history through biographical studies and personal interviews with the student-selected Eagles. Each year, the 15-person student team is responsible for selecting, contacting, researching, visiting and interviewing the Eagles.

The culmination of the event is a week-long symposium aimed at bringing history to life, and in June, Gutierrez will travel to Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base to tell his story to 514 majors currently enrolled in the college.

"It is not about what happened to him, but his whole story," said Maj. John Wahrmund, ACSC student and GOE team member assigned to Gutierrez.

"We came to visit to establish a relationship," Wahrmund said, "and get a better idea of what to ask to give the best experience [for the students]."

In October 2009, Gutierrez and his team were ambushed in Herat Province, Afghanistan during a high-risk night raid. The team was trapped in a building with no escape route and several injuries. During the firefight, Gutierrez was shot in the chest and suffered a collapsed lung. Despite this, he continued to return fire while calling in precision strafing runs from an A-10 Thunderbolt II nearby.

"I just did my job, and all I was doing was put my input in the fight," Gutierrez said.
For his valiant, life-saving actions, Gutierrez received the Air Force Cross, the service's highest honor.

The two-day visit allowed the team members to Gutierrez see in action.

"We did a tour of [Special Tactics Training School]...and the process of how we are making these battlefield Airmen," Gutierrez said. "We are building a better Airman to support the fight."

The training squadron, part of the Air Force Special Operations Command Training Center, delivers advanced and special tactics skills to combat controllers, tactical air control party, special operations weather, special tactics, pararescuemen, security forces, combat aviation advisors and special operations medical elements.

Another important objective of the visiting student GOE team is getting the Eagle to sign hundreds of lithographs. The painting depicts the selected Eagles and their airframe or contribution to the air, space and cyberspace industry.

Renowned aviation artist, Jay Ashurst painting is recreated into lithographs and each is hand-signed by each Eagle and sold to help fund the Gathering of Eagles Foundation, which is a nonprofit organization that funds Eagle guest travel and the Gathering of Eagles week events.

Gutierrez signed about 400 of the lithographs, which were detailed enough to see patches worn by the Airman. Each year the honored Eagles are presented with a lithograph as a remembrance of the occasion.

"To be recognized for this is an extraordinary honor that I will, basically, live with for the rest of my life," Gutierrez said. "It makes me happy that my kids will be able to see it, and our career field gets to see it."

Gutierrez brings a unique perspective to the program, whose legends span from World War II to the modern day, said Wahrmund.

This is a story many do not hear from the air power perspective, Wahrmund said, the air-ground perspective.

When asked what he wanted others to learn from his story, Gutierrez had a simple answer.

"Really, what I hope it puts out is that resilient, never quit attitude," he said. "You could be pushing your last breath, but you are not doing it for you. Regardless of what you do in the Air Force, it affects the whole spectrum."

For information on the Gathering of Eagles program or lithograph availability, visit the Facebook page at, on the web at, or email the 2012 team at