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Part-Time Airman, Full-Time Defender

  • Published
  • By Air Force Staff Sgt. Bryan Hoover
  • 171 Air Refueling Wing

Over 6,610 days and counting have elapsed since the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) began. The attacks on American soil began a war that has been ongoing for nearing twenty brutal years. In March of 2003, Keith Gregory’s involvement in the GWOT began when he crossed into the southern border of Iraq as an active duty United States Marine Corps (USMC) Lance Corporal along with his unit. Fifteen years later, he finished serving his seventh overall deployment combining over 1,000 days in a combat zone. 

Gregory’s military career began prior to the attacks of 9/11 as an enlisted Field Radio Operator with the USMC. During his tenure as a marine, he deployed to Iraq multiple times before hanging up his boots in 2005. 

In 2007, Gregory returned to service with a commitment to the Pennsylvania Air National Guard at the 171st Air Refueling Wing (ARW), where he enlisted as a Security Forces Defender. Since re-enlisting he has deployed several times in support of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the support of the GWOT. 

During his most recent deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan, he assumed the role as Chief of the Tactical Security Element supporting the Air Force Office of Special Investigations mission outside of the defended perimeter. His team performed over 400 missions acquiring and protecting information, which led to neutralizing over 3,000 pounds of homemade explosives, insurgent checkpoints, and multiple improvised explosive device factories. His team of defenders were a vital part of many more accomplishments that led to the safety of the 8,500 Coalition Forces and three-billion dollars of air assets at Kandahar Airfield. A very small percentage of Air Force defenders are given the opportunity to participate in missions like the ones Gregory led. “This was an amazing experience for the team since it wasn’t a typical deployment. Everyone was motivated from day one to the last day. Seeing the impact our work had on the mission daily really hit home for all of us. The aggressiveness, initiative, and motivation that my team put out daily were astonishing. I couldn’t have had a better team to work within all of my years in uniform,” said Gregory. “It’s tough to pick your best deployment but this is tops for me. This particular deployment was the best I’ve ever been a part of. We had a great command, great leadership, and a great team. It was like a family, everyone was committed, and everyone was a big supporter of the mission.” As a result to Gregory’s significant actions leading his team of guardsmen and active duty airmen, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal. 

The Bronze Star is only awarded to members of the U.S. Armed Forces that distinguish themselves by heroism, outstanding achievement or by meritorious service in a combat zone. Master Sgt. Roy Lewandowski was the first guardsman assigned to the 171st to earn the Bronze star during the GWOT conflict for his efforts in Afghanistan in 2002. Sixteen years later, Master Sgt. Keith Gregory is now the second guardsman to have this honor. 

Gregory also received National Guard recognition when he was awarded the Security Forces Staff Sergeant “TJ” Lobraico Award for Excellence. This award is given to one reservist and one guardsman from the Security Forces career field annually. It is named after Staff Sgt. Todd J. Lobraico Jr., a New York Security Forces Guardsman, who made the ultimate sacrifice on September 5th, 2013 while engaged in small-arms fire near Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. “I worked outside the wire as a part of the same mission as TJ,” Gregory said, “I didn’t get to know him personally because he was on a different reaper team but we operated outside in the battle space together.” When Lobraico’s team was engaged in small arms fire, Gregory’s reaper team was the only Coalition Force within proximity to Lobraico’s team that could clearly receive the radio traffic. Gregory’s team was instructed to move to a tactical blocking location closer to the engagement and relay all communication from Lobraico’s team to higher command so that support could be provided. “My team secured the area but couldn’t help from feeling a little helpless. We wanted to move closer and support Lobraico’s reaper team, but our command had us maintain the blocking location. Then we saw Kiowa helicopters engage the area and then observed the Pave Hawk swoop in and out. That’s why this award means a little more to me. I worked on the mission with TJ and I was in the area that night,” Gregory said. “Being out there, relaying crucial radio communications and providing blocking support and everything we were allowed to do really set in for me and my team that night. That’s why this award is a little extra special to me.” 

Additionally, the 171 ARW recognized Gregory as an Outstanding Airman of the Year (OAY) in the Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (SNCO) category. He would also go on to become the OAY SNCO for the Commonwealth of Pa. as well as the Air National Guard Region Two.
As a guardsman, you are considered to be a part-time airman and a part-time civilian. However, Air Force Master Sgt. Keith Gregory continues to prove that he is a full-time defender as he continues to answer our nation’s call.