Michael was awarded the Silver Star for his efforts in the battle for the Euphrates River bridge at Najaf with the famed 7th Cavalry (3rd Division, 7th Cavalry - of General Custer fame), the "tip of the sword" for much of the military advance from Kuwait to Baghdad in Operation Iraqi Freedom. This 36-hour battle (press coverage here, here, here, here, here, here) was among the most fierce the military faced. (See pages 17-19 of this PDF for a detailed description of the Najaf operation.)
The silver star is the third-highest military honor:
The Silver Star is awarded to a person who, while serving in any capacity with the U.S. Army, is cited for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force, or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party. The required gallantry, while of a lesser degree than that required for the Distinguished Service Cross, must nevertheless have been performed with marked distinction.
Michael's gallantry is described in this Fort Drum coverage of the Silver Star award ceremony:
Shropshire was honored for his contribution to Operation Iraqi Freedom at Abu Sukhayr, Iraq, in March 2003 when the Army unit he was attached to was attacked and surrounded by enemy forces. Surrounded, cut off, under a hail of enemy gunfire and in the largest sandstorm in four decades, Shropshire coordinated close air support while constantly switching from the radio handset to his rifle.
The sandstorm cut the controller visibility dramatically, and it was compounded by rain. “It was basically raining mud,” he said. Because of this fact, he heavily relied on outside technology like the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, which helped him to “see” through the muck.
The sergeant then left the security of his armored vehicle to confirm enemy armor locations. Low on ammunition, in a blinding sandstorm and under intense enemy fire, the sergeant directed the munitions that destroyed 10 T-72 tanks. This act dismounted enemy forces about to overrun the unit’s position. He then quickly repaired his bullet-ridden satellite antenna and coordinated other air strikes.
“I couldn’t have done this by myself,” he said. “There were a lot of people on the outside working their pieces to help me accomplish my mission. The joint team worked out really well.”
Tactical air controllers are Air Force specialists who are assigned to Army combat maneuver units around the world. They are typically a two-airmen team that works in an Army ground unit to direct close air support toward enemy targets on the ground. Airmen of the 18th ASOG operate and are deployed from 18 different locations across the United States.
Michael's job entails quite a bit of advanced technology. See the description of the battle from this piece on network centricity, which explains that Michael was credited with the destruction of over 60 tanks and armored vehicles and hundreds of trucks:
Recent combat experience provides a host of real-world examples of the power of network-enabled operations. The example I like best is that of U.S.A.F. Staff Sergeant Michael Shropshire, an Air Force Enlisted Terminal Attack Controller who in 2003 fought his way through northern Iraq with the troops of the 7th Cavalry during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The 7th Cavalry was the unit that got massacred at Little Big Horn under General George Custer over a century ago.
Outside Najaf, Shropshire’s unit became engulfed in a ferocious sandstorm. Tasked with securing a strategic bridge, the unit was isolated and surrounded on all sides by heavy Iraqi forces. Shropshire’s satellite radio became the primary form of communication for the endangered troops since the ground-force FM radios suffered from limited range.
Using the space-based link to the network, Shropshire was alerted by an Air Force JSTARS surveillance aircraft—one of just a handful of assets in the world that can peer through sandstorm conditions—that 10 T-72 tanks were about to overrun his unit. After receiving this information, Sergeant Shropshire left his armored personnel carrier and coolly directed a B-1 bomber to drop 12 GPS-guided JDAMs directly on the enemy tanks. He also quickly coordinated with inbound fighters to destroy an armored formation attacking from the other direction. Altogether, Sergeant Shropshire orchestrated the destruction of over 60 tanks and armored vehicles and hundreds of trucks.
Because of network-centric capabilities, this two-legged knowledge-enabled war fighter was able to gather a worldwide network of sensors, shooters, and space systems in support of a single, isolated cavalry troop—through sand and rain and directly on target. A lot of troopers in the 7th Cavalry owe their lives to Sergeant Shropshire, who helped to prevent another Little Big Horn for the fabled regiment and came home with a Silver Star.
Shropshire was a network-enabled fighter. But just a decade ago his position would have been much different. How would he have received information? How current would that information have been? How would the data have come to him? The pace of change has accelerated rapidly in recent years. For example, my company currently had a Global Hawk unmanned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft flying in theater equipped with the Advanced Information Architecture—the low cost of electronic storage allowed us to put a computer on the aircraft that stores huge quantities of information. With this aircraft in the region, the individual soldier can use his Personal Digital Assistant to pull down up-to-date information on his location and the surrounding area within a few minutes.