Lance Cpl. Aaron Austin, USMC

Lance Cpl. Aaron Austin died in Fallujah repelling an attack. For his actions, he was awarded the Silver Star posthumously, the award will go to his parents.

On the last night of his life, Lance Cpl. Aaron Austin joined a prayer session with other Marines hunkered down in a bullet-riddled neighborhood in Fallouja, Iraq. Austin, a 21-year-old machine-gunner, asked God for protection not for himself but for his fellow Marines of Echo Company of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment, 1st Marine Division, based at Camp Pendleton.

The next morning, insurgents attacked from three directions, firing thousands of rounds from AK-47s and other firearms and hurling dozens of grenades. With the Marines in danger of being overrun, Austin exposed himself to enemy fire in order to throw a grenade at their position 20 meters away. The grenade helped repel the attack, but Austin was mortally wounded.

The Marines were searching buildings in the war-torn Jolan neighborhood when they came under attack in one of the bloodiest clashes between the U.S. military and insurgents that spring.

Austin helped evacuate the wounded and led other Marines onto a roof to operate a machine gun. When the insurgents kept advancing, he took a grenade from his vest and moved into the open for a better throwing position.

"Several enemy bullets struck Lance Cpl. Austin in the chest," said the official Marine Corps account. "Undaunted by his injury and with heroic effort, he threw his hand grenade at the enemy on the adjacent rooftop."

The grenade hit the bull's-eye and forced the insurgents to halt their attack.

When the battle was over, Marines erected a makeshift memorial to Austin in one of the buildings they had fought to defend.

Sgt. Benny Alicea, U.S. Army

Sgt. Benny J. Alicea, 33, of Attleboro, Mass., earned the Silver Star in Fallujah when he saved the lives of six fellow squad members during a November firefight with insurgents — despite suffering shrapnel wounds from two grenades.

Sgt. Alicea — then a specialist serving as a rifleman and grenadier in Company A — and others went door to door, rounding up terrorist suspects, when they were ambushed at a two-story house along the primary north-south road in Fallujah.

Dropping back into the courtyard, with gunfire spraying out of the house and from across the street, he was struck in the hip and buttocks by shrapnel from two grenades that had been rolled through the front door.

Moving away from the courtyard, the squad headed for the street. After continuing to fire on the house, Alicea was the last to emerge.

“That's when my leg gave out on me, and I just dropped,” said Alicea, who huddled into a position alongside three wounded comrades in the middle of the road as multiple rounds flew all around them.

“I just kept firing my weapon, just shooting, waiting to get hit. I'd pretty much figured at any given point, it was all over. I just kept firing my weapon, but I didn't think I was going to make it through it.”

When his own ammunition was exhausted, he grabbed magazines from the wounded and managed to protect the position until another Bradley fighting vehicle arrived on the scene. He helped load the most seriously injured soldiers before finally being taken away himself.

Chief Warrant Officer Donald Tabron
Master Sgt. Patrick M. Quinn
1st Sgt. Dennis Caylor
Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Adamec
Cpl. Jeremiah C. Olsen

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sep. 10, 2003) — Five soldiers who were awarded the Silver Star for actions during the War On Terror say the award isn't about their actions - it's about their units.

Chief Warrant Officer Donald Tabron, Master Sgt. Patrick M. Quinn, 1st Sgt. Dennis Caylor, Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Adamec and Cpl. Jeremiah C. Olsen were awarded the nation's third-highest medal for valor in wartime, visited the Washington, D.C., area to commemorate the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Four out of the five Soldiers were from U.S. Army Special Operations Command units.

They visited Capitol Hill, the Pentagon's Memorial Chapel and will help Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery Sept. 11.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker awarded the medals to Tabron, Quinn and Adamec Sept. 10. Caylor and Olsen were awarded at their units.

Only three were available for comment and the concurred that they are not "big on ceremonies." The big deal for Caylor, first sergeant for Company B, 1st Battalion, 325th Parachute Infantry Regiment, is being here in Washington, D.C., for the commeration of Sept. 11, 2001, and the War on Terror.

"It reinforces what Sept. 11 was all about: The fight on terrorism," Caylor said of the trip. "The awards are just a small piece in this whole event of what's going on."

All three said the Silver Star medals that Schoomaker pinned on them isn't about them. It's about what their units -- from a parachute infantry company to a 12-man Special Forces Operation Detachment - Alpha -- did during the war.

"Every single unit functions as a team on some level," said Adamec, a weapons sergeant in Co. C, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group. "Most of the awards people get, I do believe, is not just on them, it's a direct reflection on the abilities of the people around them to do their job."

"To me, it's a tribute to everything that my (detachment) did during our fighting in Iraq," said Quinn, a team sergeant in Co. A, 2nd Bn., 10th SFG. "As I wear it the rest of my life, I'll always think of the guys I was with, not what I personally did."

Quinn was awarded the medal for leading his team and a group of Kurdish militia during a battle with an Iraqi armored unit April 2-5. During the battle, Quinn's actions resulted in, among other things, the destruction of two tanks, four armored personnel carriers, 30 dead Iraqi soldiers and the seizure of 30 kilometers of ground.

Adamec destroyed four Iraqi armored personnel carriers and one enemy position with Javelin anti-tank missiles while under fire when his team attacked a fortified ridgeline in northern Iraq during the war. Those actions helped secure an intersection linking Mosul and Kirkuk, Iraq.

Details about Caylor's actions weren't available.

Now they're back from Iraq, the three soldiers want the American public beyond Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Carson, Colo., to understand good things are happening every day in Iraq.

"There are a ton of amazing soldiers in the Army and they're doing amazing things everyday," Quinn said. "And a lot of that story's not getting out."

Someone who never witnessed the toppling of Saddam Hussein, saw a school or hospital reopen may think those things are amazing, but the soldiers in Iraq probably thinks they're common, everyday events, Quinn said.

Caylor said he sees a lot of negativity around the country about Iraq and the American people aren't seeing the good things happening there.

"What I'd like to relay is that people need to be patient," Caylor said about the progress and conduct of the war. "As quickly as we handled the war -- a minimum of casualties, a minimum of deaths -- I just think we just did outstanding; they should be applauded."

The medals also aren't about starting the process of Iraqi democracy, or even democracy in the Middle East, Adamec said.
The medals show the sacrifices the American soldier is willing to make to bring a better way of life to anyone around the world, he said.

"It's a testament to pretty much anyone who's served in the Army to help out somebody else," Adamec said.

Tabron is a MH-47E Chinook pilot, in 2nd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.

Olsen is in 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.

1stLt. David Bernstein

1LT David Bernstein - 508th Parachute Infantry, KIA in Iraq on 18 October, Lt. Bernstein was on a patrol in his humvee along with several other vehicles. Their mission was to locate and destroy an enemy position from which RPGs had been fired at his company.

Ambushed, with his vehicle hit and bleeding profusely from a leg wound, David helped free his driver who was pinned down by the overturned vehicle. He then returned fire to the enemy. Gen. Brooks presented David's parents with a bronze star and a purple heart that had been awarded to their son


Staff Sgt. Raymond Bittinger

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARHORSE, Iraq, July 20, 2004 — The 1st Infantry Division Commander, Maj. Gen. John R.S. Batiste, awarded the Silver Star medal with Valor, one of the highest military decorations, to Staff Sgt. Raymond Bittinger, an infantryman from the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment and attached to the 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery, according to 1st Infantry Division officials.

About 200 soldiers attended the ceremony July 19, held on Forward Operating Base Gabe in Baqubah, Iraq. Bittinger, a 33-year-old Chicago native, earned the medal for valorous actions leading to the defeat of enemy forces and saving the lives of friendly forces on April 9, 2004, in Buhritz and Baqubah.

Lt. Col. Steven Bullimore, Task Force 1-6 commander presided over the ceremony. “As Americans, we love our heroes,” he

said. “We wonder in our heart of hearts what it is that makes them. In the example of Staff Sgt. Ray Bittinger, two things stand out. First, he has always been good at what he does. Second is the simple selflessness of a true professional.”

Bittinger said he was humbled by the all of the attention and the remarks.

“I consider myself a soldier, not a hero,” said Bittinger after the ceremony. “I’m an infantryman. It’s my duty; it’s my job.”

Pfc. Jeremy Church

FORT McCOY, Wis. (Army News Service, Feb. 28, 2005) -- As the 724th Transportation Company was welcomed home from Iraq Feb. 25, the first Army Reserve Soldier in the Global War on Terrorism received a Silver Star.

Pfc. Jeremy Church of the 724th was pinned during a homecoming ceremony at Fort McCoy, Wis., with the Silver Star, the Army’s third-highest medal for valor.

Church earned the medal when his convoy was attacked April 9 by more than 150 insurgents in an ambush during which Spc. Keith “Matt” Maupin was captured.

Church was the convoy commander’s driver in the lead vehicle. The convoy was taking fuel to Baghdad International Airport when the Madr Militia struck. Church’s actions are attributed with saving the lives of at least five Soldiers and four civilians.

Church drove aggressively through the “kill zone” to dodge explosions, obstacles and small arms fire, according to his citation. When the convoy commander was shot, Church grabbed his first aid pouch, ripped it open, and instructed the platoon leader to apply a bandage. Church fired his M-16 at the enemy as he continued to drive around barriers.

When an improvised explosive devised blew out a tire, Church continued driving for four miles on only three tires, all the while firing his M-16 out the window with his left hand. He finally led the convoy into a security perimeter established by a cavalry company from 2-12 Cav. He then carried his platoon leader out of the vehicle to a casualty collection point for treatment.

Then Church rallied the troopers to launch an immediate recovery mission and escorted them back into the kill zone.

“Pfc. Church identified the assistant commander’s vehicle amidst heavy black smoke and flaming wreckage of burning fuel tankers to find two more wounded Soldiers and four civilian truck drivers,” his citation reads, adding that after a hasty triage and treating a sucking chest wound, he “carried the Soldier over to one of the recovery vehicles while exposing himself to continuous enemy fire from both sides of the road.”

When all the wounded were loaded in the truck, there was no room and Church volunteered to remain behind. He climbed into a disabled Humvee for cover, according to his citation, and continued firing at and killing insurgents until the recovery team returned. He then loaded up several more wounded before sweeping the area for sensitive items and evacuating.

Army Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly presented Church with the Silver Star. Helmly also spoke with the parents of Maupin, who was captured in the ambush.

Even though Maupin’s Army Reserve unit has returned to its home station of Bartonville, Ill., Army officials said other Soldiers in Iraq will never stop the search for Maupin.

Maj. Mark Bieger
Sgt. Joseph Martin
Staff Sgt. Wesley Holt
Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Prosser
Staff Sgt. Shannon Kay

A massive truck bomb had turned much of the Fort Lewis soldiers’ outpost to rubble.

One of their own lay dying and many others wounded.

Some 50 al-Qaida fighters were attacking from several directions with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

It was obvious that the insurgents had come to drive the platoon of Stryker brigade troops out of Combat Outpost Tampa, a four-story concrete building overlooking a major highway through western Mosul, Iraq.

“It crossed my mind that that might be what they were going to try to do,” recalled Staff Sgt. Robert Bernsten, one of 40 soldiers at the outpost that day.

“But I wasn’t going to let that happen, and looking around I could tell nobody else in 2nd platoon was going to let that happen, either.”

He and 10 other soldiers from the same unit – the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment – would later be decorated for their valor on this day of reckoning, Dec. 29, 2004.

Three were awarded the Silver Star, the Army’s third-highest award for heroism in combat.

When you combine those medals with two other Silver Star recipients involved in different engagements, the battalion known as “Deuce Four” stands in elite company.

The Army doesn’t track the number of medals per unit, but officials said there could be few, if any, other battalions in the Iraq war to have so many soldiers awarded the Silver Star.

“I think this is a great representation of our organization,” said the 1-24’s top enlisted soldier, Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Prosser, after a battalion award ceremony late last month at Fort Lewis.

“There are so many that need to be recognized. … There were so many acts of heroism and valor.”

The fight for COP Tampa came as Deuce Four was just two months into its yearlong mission in west Mosul. The battalion is part of Fort Lewis’ second Stryker brigade.

In the preceding weeks, insurgents had grown bolder in their attacks in the city of 2 million. Just eight days earlier, a suicide bomber made his way into a U.S. chow hall and killed 22 people, including two from Deuce Four.

The battalion took over the four-story building overlooking the busy highway and set up COP Tampa after coming under fire from insurgents holed up there. The troops hoped to stem the daily roadside bombings of U.S. forces along the highway, called route Tampa.

Looking back, the Dec. 29 battle was a turning point in the weeks leading up to Iraq’s historic first democratic election.

The enemy “threw everything they had into this,” Bernsten said. “And you know in the end, they lost quite a few guys compared to the damage they could do to us.

“They didn’t quit after that, but they definitely might have realized they were up against something a little bit tougher than they originally thought.”

A fight on dual fronts

The battle for COP Tampa was actually two fights – one at the outpost, and the other on the highway about a half-mile south.

About 3:20 p.m., a large cargo truck packed with 50 South African artillery rounds and propane tanks barreled down the highway toward the outpost, according to battalion accounts.

Pfc. Oscar Sanchez, on guard duty in the building, opened fire on the truck, killing the driver and causing the explosives to detonate about 75 feet short of the building.

Sanchez, 19, was fatally wounded in the blast. Commanders last month presented his family with a Bronze Star for valor and said he surely saved lives. The enormous truck bomb might have destroyed the building had the driver been able to reach the ground-floor garages.

As it was, the enormous explosion damaged three Strykers parked at the outpost and wounded 17 of the 40 or so soldiers there, two of them critically.

Bernsten was in a room upstairs.

“It threw me. It physically threw me. I opened my eyes and I’m laying on the floor a good 6 feet from where I was standing a split second ago,” he said. “There was nothing but black smoke filling the building.”

People were yelling for each other, trying to find out if everyone was OK.

“It seemed like it was about a minute, and then all of a sudden it just opened up from everywhere. Them shooting at us. Us shooting at them,” Bernsten said.

The fight would rage for the next two hours. Battalion leaders said videotape and documents recovered later showed it was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq fighters. They were firing from rooftops, from street corners, from cars, Bernsten said.

Eventually, Deuce Four soldiers started to run low on ammunition. Bernsten, a squad leader, led a team of soldiers out into the open, through heavy fire, to retrieve more from the damaged Strykers.

“We went to the closest vehicle first and grabbed as much ammo as we could, and got it upstairs and started to distribute it,” he said. “When you hand a guy a magazine and they’re putting the one you just handed them into their weapon, you realize they’re getting pretty low. So we knew we had to go back out there for more.”

He didn’t necessarily notice there were rounds zipping past as he and the others ran the 100 feet or so to the Strykers.

“All you could see was the back of the Stryker you were trying to get to.”

A struggle to disarm bombs

Another fight raged down route Tampa, where a convoy of six Strykers, including the battalion commander’s, had rolled right into a field of hastily set roadside bombs.

The bombs hadn’t been there just five minutes earlier, when the convoy had passed by going the other way after a visit to the combat outpost.

It was an ambush set up to attack whatever units would come to the aid of COP Tampa.

Just as soldiers in the lead vehicle radioed the others that there were bombs in the road, the second Stryker was hit by a suicide car bomber.

Staff Sgt. Eddieboy Mesa, who was inside, said the blast tore off the slat armor cage and equipment from the right side of the vehicle, and destroyed its tires and axles and the grenade launcher mounted on top. But no soldiers were seriously injured.

Insurgents opened fire from the west and north of the highway. Stryker crewmen used their .50-caliber machine guns and grenade launchers to destroy a second car bomb and two of the bombs rigged in the roadway.

Three of the six Strykers pressed on to COP Tampa to join the fight.

One, led by battalion operations officer Maj. Mark Bieger, loaded up the critically wounded and raced back onto the highway through the patch of still-unstable roadside bombs. It traveled unescorted the four miles or so to a combat support hospital. Bieger and his men are credited with saving the lives of two soldiers.

Then he and his men turned around and rejoined the fight on the highway. Bieger was one of those later awarded the Silver Star.

Meantime, it was left to the soldiers still on the road to defend the heavily damaged Stryker and clear the route of the remaining five bombs.

Staff Sgt. Wesley Holt and Sgt. Joseph Martin rigged up some explosives and went, under fire, from bomb to bomb to prepare them for demolition.

They had no idea whether an insurgent was watching nearby, waiting to detonate the bombs. Typically, this was the kind of situation where infantry soldiers would call in the ordnance experts. But there was no time, Holt said.

“You could see the IEDs right out in the road. I knew it was going to be up to us to do it,” Holt said. “Other units couldn’t push through. The colonel didn’t want to send any more vehicles through the kill zone until we could clear the route.”

And so they prepared their charges under the cover of the Strykers, then ran out to the bombs, maybe 50 yards apart. The two men needed about 30 seconds to rig each one as incoming fire struck around them.

“You could hear it going, but where they were landing I don’t know,” Holt said. “You concentrate on the main thing that’s in front of you.”

He and Martin later received Silver Stars.

‘The cavalry’ comes

The route clear, three other Deuce Four platoons moved out into the neighborhoods and F/A-18 fighter jets made more than a dozen runs to attack enemy positions with missiles and cannon fire.

“It was loud, but it was a pretty joyous sound,” Bernsten said. “You know that once that’s happened, you have the upper hand in such a big way. It’s like the cavalry just arrived, like in the movies.”

Other soldiers eventually received Bronze Stars for their actions that day, too.

Sgt. Christopher Manikowski and Sgt. Brandon Huff pulled wounded comrades from their damaged Strykers and carried them over open ground, under fire, to the relative safety of the building.

Sgt. Nicholas Furfari and Spc. Dennis Burke crawled out onto the building’s rubbled balcony under heavy fire to retrieve weapons and ammunition left there after the truck blast.

Also decorated with Bronze Stars for their valor on Dec. 29 were Lt. Jeremy Rockwell and Spc. Steven Sosa.

U.S. commanders say they killed at least 25 insurgents. Deuce Four left the outpost unmanned for about three hours that night, long enough for engineers to determine whether it was safe to re-enter. Troops were back on duty by morning, said battalion commander Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla.

In the next 10 months, insurgents would continue to attack Deuce Four troops in west Mosul with snipers, roadside bombs and suicide car bombs.

But never again would they mass and attempt such a complex attack.

“From my perspective, Deuce Four is reflective of the whole 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division … attitude: aggressive, up-front leadership, outfox and outfight the enemy,” said Lt. Gen. James Dubik, the Fort Lewis commander.

“They had some tough fighting in their sector. They were up to the task. The enemy was not.”

Heroics on two other days earned Silver Stars for Deuce Four'

Like all the others at a recent ceremony, Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Prosser stood at attention as a narrator read a description of his Silver Star-worthy actions.

It was Aug. 19, and Prosser’s commander, Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla, had been shot down in front of him. Bullets hit the ground and walls around him.

Prosser charged under fire into a shop, not knowing how many enemy fighters were inside.

There was one, and Prosser shot him four times in the chest, then threw down his empty rifle and fought hand-to-hand with the man.

The insurgent pulled Prosser’s helmet over his eyes. Prosser got his hands onto the insurgent’s throat, but couldn’t get a firm grip because it was slick with blood.

“Unable to reach his sidearm or his knife, and without the support of any other American soldiers,” the ceremony’s narrator continued, “Sergeant Major Prosser nonetheless disarmed and subdued the insurgent by delivering a series of powerful blows to the insurgent’s head, rendering the man unconscious.”

The narrator paused, and for a moment there was silence in the audience.

Then the 800 soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, roared for their leader.

Prosser didn’t blink.

Later he acknowledged the encouragement of his men, but added, “You can’t forget that you had to hurt somebody.

“This all happened in about 30 seconds of a 20-year career. A lot of it has to do with God himself, with love of the job, love of man, love of soldiers.”

The other Silver Star recipient, Staff Sgt. Shannon Kay, wasn’t present for the recent ceremony.

He has moved on to a new assignment at Fort Benning, Ga.

Kay was awarded the Silver Star for his actions on Dec. 11, 2004.

He helped save the lives of seven members of his squad after they were attacked by a suicide bomber and insurgents with rockets and mortars at a traffic checkpoint.

He and others used fire extinguishers to save their burning Stryker vehicle and killed at least eight enemy fighters. Throughout the fight, Kay refused medical attention despite being wounded in four places, according to battalion records.

Staff Sgt. Javier Echols
Sgt. Matthew Acosta
Sgt. Zachariah Collett

CAMP LIBERTY , Iraq — It was a Labor Day to remember for three Soldiers from the 108 th Military Police Company out of Fort Bragg , N.C. They were awarded medals of valor by the Multi National Corps-Iraq Commander, Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, in a ceremony on Camp Liberty September 5.

“We're here to recognize the valor of these three brave non-commissioned officers that stand in front of us,” said Vines.

In the early morning hours of April 30, Staff Sgt. Javier Echols, Sgt. Matthew Acosta and Sgt. Zachariah Collett , as part of squad Warlord 11, were patrolling a Main Supply Route when an Improvised Explosive Device detonated nearby. An Iraqi National Guard transport vehicle filled with Iraqi Soldiers was hit by the blast.

Echols, who received the Silver Star for his bravery, led his team in the rescue of four Iraqi National Guard Soldiers who were wounded in the explosion. Amidst a dangerous crossfire between insurgents and ING Soldiers, the trio managed to move the wounded to safety and administer medical aid until an evacuation helicopter arrived on the scene.

For one wounded Iraqi Soldier, the team crafted a makeshift stretcher from a piece of metal that had been blown from the transport truck in the explosion.

Acosta received the Bronze Star Medal with Valor, and Collett , the Army Commendation Medal with Valor for their fearless efforts to rescue, treat and evacuate the wounded during the small arms attack.

After presenting the Soldiers with their medals, Vines expressed his admiration for their courage and applauded their actions. “In support of the Iraqi National Guard Soldiers, these three Americans risked everything they had, their lives, to protect and defend them,” Vines said.

Vines also commended the men and women of the Armed Forces for their continuing commitment to defend liberty. “Americans will be able to sleep safely at night, be able to congregate on Labor Day, at rallies and to go to football games and all the other things that they do in their daily lives only so long as there are men and women such as yourselves . Your epitomized and represented by the great Soldiers standing in front of us today, and I ask you to join me in a round of applause for them,” said Vines.

Master Sgt. Robert Collins

Sgt. 1st Class Danny Hall

Collins and Hall, both of 2nd Battalion, 10th SFG, were deployed to Iraq earlier this year in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

During offensive operations in the country’s Jazeera region in April, both men’s aggressive actions in battle led to the defeat of attacking enemy forces and the survival of their Special Forces detachment, according to their Silver Star citations.

While searching for an anti-Iraqi forces training camp and weapons cache, Collins and Hall’s joint coalition element was engaged by a platoon-sized enemy force with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and grenades. After Collins personally directed close air support from F-16 aircraft armed with 500-pound bombs, Hall led a dismounted charge into small arms fire and RPG volleys.

Collins then led his element to engage the enemy, personally eliminating at least three enemy fighters. In addition to his combat role, Hall — a Special Forces medical sergeant — managed to set up a casualty collection point and a helicopter landing zone to medevac out his wounded troops.

Perhaps Collins and Hall most conspicuously risked their lives when while pinned down by enemy fire, both men ran into a hail of bullets to recover a critically wounded U.S. Soldier. They carried the Soldier to safety, began medical care and saved his life.

Collins acknowledged the personal significance of his Silver Star, but said he feels that the award symbolizes the heroism of his team during its battle with anti-Iraqi forces.

“It’s important, but it’s representative of the efforts of the team, not just my individual effort,” Collins said. He also stressed that in addition to the pride he has in his SF teammates, he was just as proud of the other U.S. and Iraqi forces that fought with them that day in Iraq.

“They fought well and fought hard,” he added.

Tovo said that Collins and Hall’s uncommon valor on the battlefield came as no surprise to him after he learned the details of the battle.

“They epitomize the ideal of bravery that we expect of today’s SF Soldier,” Tovo said.

Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2005 – For the first time since World War II, a woman soldier was awarded the Silver Star Medal in Iraq.

Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, vehicle commander, 617th Military Police Company, Richmond, Ky., stands at attention before receiving the Silver Star at an awards ceremony at Camp Liberty, Iraq, June 16. Hester is the first woman soldier since World War II to receive the Silver Star.

Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester of the 617th Military Police Company, a National Guard unit out of Richmond, Ky., received the Silver Star, along with two other members of her unit, Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein and Spc. Jason Mike, for their actions during an enemy ambush on their convoy. Other members of the unit also received awards.

Hester's squad was shadowing a supply convoy March 20 when anti-Iraqi fighters ambushed the convoy. The squad moved to the side of the road, flanking the insurgents and cutting off their escape route. Hester led her team through the "kill zone" and into a flanking position, where she assaulted a trench line with grenades and M203 grenade-launcher rounds. She and Nein, her squad leader, then cleared two trenches, at which time she killed three insurgents with her rifle.

When the fight was over, 27 insurgents were dead, six were wounded, and one was captured.

Hester, 23, who was born in Bowling Green, Ky., and later moved to Nashville, Tenn., said she was surprised when she heard she was being considered for the Silver Star.

"I'm honored to even be considered, much less awarded, the medal," she said.

Being the first woman soldier since World War II to receive the medal is significant to Hester. But, she said, she doesn't dwell on the fact. "It really doesn't have anything to do with being a female," she said. "It's about the duties I performed that day as a soldier."

Hester, who has been in the National Guard since April 2001, said she didn't have time to be scared when the fight started, and she didn't realize the impact of what had happened until much later.

"Your training kicks in and the soldier kicks in," she said. "It's your life or theirs. ... You've got a job to do -- protecting yourself and your fellow comrades."

Nein, who is on his second deployment to Iraq, praised Hester and his other soldiers for their actions that day. "It's due to their dedication and their ability to stay there and back me up that we were able to do what we did that day," he said.

Hester and her fellow soldiers were awarded their medals at Camp Liberty, Iraq, by Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, Multinational Corps Iraq commanding general. In his speech, Vines commended the soldiers for their bravery and their contribution to the international war on terror.

"My heroes don't play in the (National Basketball Association) and don't play in the U.S. Open (golf tournament) at Pinehurst," Vines said. "They're standing in front of me today. These are American heroes."

Three soldiers of the 617th were wounded in the ambush. Hester said she and the other squad members are thinking about them, and she is very thankful to have made it through unscathed. The firefight, along with the entire deployment, has had a lasting effect on her, Hester said.

"I think about it every day, and probably will for the rest of my life," she said.

SSgt. Timothy Nein

Spec. Jason Mike

The two soldiers crept along the trench line, bullets thumping into the dirt around them. One was a lanky family man, 36, with two young sons and a 15-year career at International Paper Co. The other was a petite, single woman, 23, the floor manager at a Nashville shoe store.

Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester handed Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein a grenade. He had the better arm. Nein hurled it at the insurgents, who were crouched in the same trench, firing their AK-47 rifles at the Americans in the early afternoon.

Hester and Nein inched forward, the two recalled, Hester firing her black M-4 assault rifle next to Nein's ear. By the time the soldiers climbed out of the trench, their lips were chapped from the heat, their faces smeared with dirt, and four insurgents lay dead or dying nearby.

"I really don't know who killed who," said Hester, who stands 5-foot-4, speaks with a twang and walks with a swagger. "He could have got three, I could have got one, I don't know. I know for sure I got at least one."

This account of the 25-minute firefight, near the town of Salman Pak, is based on interviews with seven squad members and their commanders and a brief video that ends abruptly with the insurgent cameraman's death. The three squad members not interviewed were wounded and are still recovering.

Hester killed at least three enemy combatants, according to her account and the citation, including two in the orchard before she and Nein plunged into the trench together to take on the last insurgents.

Receiving the Silver Star, along with Hester and Nein, was a platoon medic, Spec. Jason Mike, a 5-foot-9, 250-pound former fullback at Jacksonville University in Florida.

In the middle of the battle, Mike, 22, fired two weapons in opposite directions after three of the four soldiers traveling in his Humvee were struck by bullets, he and other members of the squad recounted.

In interviews, the squad and its commanders described how the battle on March 20 unfolded. Raven 42 was patrolling north near Salman Pak, about 12 miles southeast of Baghdad. A convoy of 30 tractor-trailers passed in the other direction. Nein decided to turn the squad around to shadow the trucks until they were safely out of the area. Squad members were in three Humvees.

Within minutes, the convoy abruptly stopped. Up ahead, Nein, seated in the passenger seat of the first Humvee, could see the half-mile line of trucks suddenly break erratically. Spec. Casey Cooper, in the gunner's hatch, said he could see it, too.

"They're taking fire!" he screamed. "Go! Go!"

The squad's three Humvees roared toward the firefight. Some of the trucks were already in flames. Nein ordered his driver, Sgt. Dustin Morris, to get between the assailants and the convoy.

Morris found an opening between two trailers, and the squad drove through it, emerging in the middle of the kill zone -- where gunfire is most heavily concentrated during an attack.

A blizzard of small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades followed.

"Flank 'em down the road!" Nein yelled.

Just ahead was a paved side road. Morris accelerated to make the turn. But before he could, Cooper, exposed in the turret, saw a rocket-propelled grenade coming toward him. "I saw smoke and a black dot," he recalled. "All I had time to say was, 'Oh crap.' "

The projectile exploded on the armored lip above the rear passenger's side window. The Humvee fishtailed and Cooper dropped with a thud into the cab. His limp body lay across the steel platform where he had stood moments before. His head bobbed facedown in the footwell. Nein said he reached back and shook him.

"Coop, are you okay?" he screamed. Cooper didn't move.

"Believing he was dead, I began to climb up on top of him to get up on the weapon," Nein said. Cooper suddenly bolted upright.

"I'm okay, I'm okay," Cooper said he told Nein. He climbed back into the turret.

Incredibly, the Humvee was still running. Morris turned onto the side road. Bullets poured into the grill. Oil spurted up onto the windshield. Morris flipped on the wipers, smearing oil over the thick glass.

He stopped about 200 yards down the road. The second Humvee, with Pullen driving and Hester in the passenger seat, stopped about 50 yards behind. The third Humvee made the turn and stopped just beyond the corner.

Mike, the hulking medic, looked out from the third Humvee. What he saw stunned him, he recalled. About 16 to 20 insurgents lined a trench parallel to the main road. Dozens more were firing from an orchard. Still more lined a trench that ran parallel to the side road.

The ambush was far larger than anything the squad had seen. The third Humvee was parked directly in front of the main trench where many of the insurgents were concentrated.

Nein peered out his window. Lining the side road were seven cars -- BMWs, Caprices, Opel sedans -- the insurgents' escape vehicles. The doors and trunks were open; they apparently planned to take hostages. The Americans later found some of the insurgents were carrying handcuffs.

Nein feared the squad was about to be overrun. Instead of dismounting on the driver's side -- away from the shooting -- he opened the door and walked directly toward the gunfire.

Hester, watching Nein from the second Humvee, did the same.

"I didn't have a choice. I could have climbed over, that's what you're trained to do," Nein said. "But once I knew how many people we were fighting against, it hit me we had to fight back extremely hard."

Nein and Hester, followed by Morris, ducked behind a four-foot berm that overlooked the orchard. Insurgents, many wearing masks and civilian clothes, fired AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and RPK machine guns from behind trees and mounds of dirt.

Nein shot one insurgent in the head as he peeked from behind a tree. Hester trained her "aim point" -- a red dot that fixes the target -- on the chest of an insurgent firing an RPK from behind a knoll.

"I just put that little dot on him and squeezed the trigger," she said. "It hit him and he fell down. I was like, 'Whoa, I just killed somebody.' Before that first one, it was almost like it wasn't real. Now it was for real."

Hester shifted her aim to another insurgent. She pulled the trigger. He fell down.

The most dangerous spot was near the third Humvee, parked overlooking the main trench and in the line of fire of more than a dozen insurgents. Within minutes, three of the Humvee's four occupants had been hit.

Spec. Bryan Mack was struck in the left shoulder. No sooner had Mike bandaged him and put him in the Humvee, Rivera was hit, too, the bullet apparently entering his lower back and exiting through his stomach.

The bullets were now coming from two directions -- not only from the trench but also from a 10-foot berm on the other side of the Humvees. It was only one or two insurgents, but the squad was pinned down. Mike treated Rivera's wound and shoved him underneath the Humvee as far as he could for protection.

Then Spec. William Haynes, in the turret, was hit in the left hand. He fell back into the Humvee, screaming.

He showed his hand to Mike, who recalled he told Haynes to wrap it. As he did, Mike focused on the source of the fire. "I could hear the bullets hitting the Humvee," he said. "They were coming from both directions, both in front and behind."

With the other soldiers out of action, Mike set up an M-249 light machine gun, known as a Squad Automatic Weapon, or SAW, on the Humvee's trunk. With his right hand, he fired it into the main trench. With his left, he gripped an M-4 assault rifle and shot in the other direction at the insurgent firing from atop the 10-foot berm. He continued shooting both weapons until Haynes had bandaged his hand and resumed fighting.

Cooper informed Nein that the squad was now taking fire from the rear. He said the insurgent appeared to be firing from a dirt plateau just on the other side of the berm. Nein grabbed a grenade, ran at the berm and lobbed it over.

The firing stopped. To make sure he had eliminated the threat, Nein backed up, took a running start and tried to climb the steep berm. Clawing at the dirt with his hands and his rifle, he pulled himself to the top. No one was there.

Pullen ran over to Nein and told him Rivera had been seriously wounded. Nein ordered her to treat him. The fighting was still heavy. Pullen, concerned Rivera was exposed, returned to her truck and backed it up to where Rivera lay on the ground. Pullen recalled she placed a bandage over the wound and applied pressure. Rivera screamed and rocked; he said he couldn't feel his legs. "Think about your son," said Pullen, recalling Rivera had a young boy. "Think about him. Think about anything but this."

The shooting had begun to subside, but with Rivera needing to be evacuated as soon as possible, Nein believed he was running out of time. Below him, in the trench that ran along the side road, four insurgents were still firing up at the squad and then ducking behind a berm.

He looked at Hester, now crouching next to him. "We've got to go in there," he said.

Nein rolled over the berm into the trench, Hester following behind. The trench was uneven, and they took cover in the small spaces. The insurgents, clustered about 30 yards down and spaced five yards apart, poked out their heads and fired their AK-47s in bursts. "I could see the bullets kicking up the dried dirt and I remember thinking, 'I can't believe that's stopping them.' " Nein said.

"We went through there foot by foot," said Hester. "We'd stop every couple meters or so, two or three meters, and lay down fire. I'd be firing over his shoulder."

The soldiers tossed grenades as they moved closer. Hester saw one insurgent about 15 yards away. She lobbed a grenade toward the figure, then pressed her body into the side of the trench to avoid the blast. "I saw one of them go down," she said.

Soon, one insurgent was still firing. Nein lobbed another grenade. The shooting stopped.

Hester and Nein climbed out the trench. Bodies littered the orchard and the trenches. The only sounds were the cries of the wounded.

Other units arrived. Mike and Pullen helped transport the wounded to a makeshift landing zone for evacuation by helicopters.

Hester sat down and stared into space. She said she didn't feel like a hero, only that "I did my job." In some ways, she's still staring.

"I think about March 20 at least a couple times a day, every day, and I probably will for the rest of my life," she said last week. "It's taken its toll. Every night I'm lucky if I don't see the picture of it in my mind before I go to sleep, and then, even if I don't, I'm dreaming about what we did."

Capt Joshua L. Glover

MARINE BARRACKS WASHINGTON, Washington D.C.(Oct. 28, 2005) -- The annals of Marine Corps history are filled with stories of men and women who have sacrificed their all in service to their country. Puller, Basilone, Lejeune, Butler, Daley—names that are synonymous with valor in combat and Marine Corps lore.

"There is a fellowship of valor that links all U.S. Marines, past, present, and future," said Joseph Alexander, retired Marine Colonel in his book The Battle History of the U.S. Marines: A Fellowship of Valor.

Now, another story of valor can be added to the Marine history books and for one Marine officer assigned to the Corps' "Oldest Post," that story is one of modesty and simply taking care of his Marines.

Dallas native, Capt Joshua L. Glover was presented the nation's third highest award for valor in combat—the Silver Star medal.

Glover, a 2001 United States Naval Academy graduate, received his award during a chilly early morning ceremony held aboard the Post Oct 28, 2005 from the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Michael W. Hagee.

The 26-year-old received the award for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy while serving as 81mm Mortar Platoon Commander with Weapons Company and Quick Reaction Force Platoon Commander, 1st Marine Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom on April 13, 2004 in Al Fallujah.

When asked about the award, Glover humbly diverts attention away from himself.

"I received this award because of something we did as a platoon, and I am really proud of what we accomplished that day," he said.

Occurring during the second of his three deployments to Iraq, Glover led and directed his platoon through enemy lines to recover classified material from a downed CH-53 helicopter. The platoon was attacked by Iraqi forces employing machinegun, small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire. Glover skillfully maneuvered his force and assaulted through the ambush to friendly lines, inflicting numerous enemy casualties.

After successfully completing the mission, Glover was ordered that same evening to recover a destroyed Assault Amphibious Vehicle and assist in the rescue of a besieged rifle platoon deep behind enemy lines. Glover and his Marines found themselves up against a company-sized Iraqi force along the enemy's main line of resistance where as stated in Glover’s Silver Star citation, "...he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire as he engaged enemy targets at point-blank range while directing the rifle platoon's relief and coordinating recovery operations."

Glover attributes the battle as a success because of the hard work of the Marines in his charge, and his common sense approach to leadership.

"When you train Marines you have to get them to focus on the basics. In a chaotic situation such as combat, the basics will get them through," said Glover.

According to Glover, it's more than just training that makes a platoon of Marines successful in combat. Strong leadership in your Non-Commissioned Officers is vital. In order to be successful, with the dispersion between elements in today's combat environments, your NCOs have to be equipped and empowered to make decisions, he said.

And through something very challenging, Glover has earned a new outlook on his life.

"I have learned to appreciate what we have here in the U.S., both the general safety we enjoy and the quality of our lives," said Glover.

And while the battle for which Glover was awarded was a success, he feels the enormity of the price that was paid.

"I lost a Marine that day, as did another unit in the battalion. We can not separate [the victory from the loss], and I think we need to do our best to make them and their families proud," he said.

For those Marines who have been called upon to defend freedom in far off lands, sacrifice is the common thread that binds them together. The desire to join their brethren in combat keeps them ready to go. And, at the Corps' "Oldest Post," another story can be added to the history books - one of sacrifice, humility and valor.

SSgt. Charles Good (Green Berets)

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. — An Army trumpet player turned Green Beret was awarded with a Silver Star, the Army’s third highest award for combat valor.

Staff Sgt. Charles Good was credited with exposing himself to enemy fire on the Syrian/Iraqi border to assist in getting a critically wounded comrade into a Humvee, then negotiating in Arabic a ride from an Iraqi man for them when the Humvee became crippled by enemy fire.

“Something took over me,” said Good, 34, of Altoona, Pa., after the brief ceremony. “That’s pretty much how it was.”

Five other members of his 5th Special Forces unit, based at Fort Campbell, received Bronze Star medals with valor device Thursday for their actions in the same clash that ended 24 hours after it started with more than 35 insurgents killed, the Army said.

The injured soldier, Sgt. First Class Joseph Briscoe, 37, of Liberty, Texas, whose right arm was blown off by a rocket-propelled grenade during the incident, was among those receiving a Bronze Star. Briscoe, a father of four, said there’s no way to appropriately convey his thanks to Good.

“I don’t know what you say to someone who’s responsible for saving your life,” said Briscoe, who now has a prosthetic arm. “I hope he can understand how grateful I am to him. ... I thank him every time I see him.”

The ceremony on Thursday was dedicated to Staff Sgt. Aaron Holleyman, 26, the 5th Group Army medic who treated Briscoe at the base camp. Holleyman was killed Aug. 30 in Iraq when his vehicle was hit by a land mine.

Good joined the Army in 1989 as a trumpet player, and participated in the 1991 Gulf War. He made the switch to Special Forces 10 years into his career.

“I really enjoyed my time in the band. ... I just kind of tired of it. I just wanted to challenge myself,” said Good, who is engaged and has a 10-year-old son. “I thought I could do this job. Or else I’d be asking myself the rest of my life if I could.”

The 11 men who originally came under fire were members of the Special Operational Detachment Alpha 531. Their mission was to curtail foreign fighters who were infiltrating Iraq along the border in their assigned territory and clear the area of insurgents.

The Army provided the following account of what happened when their two-vehicle convoy drove into the hostile village of Sadah on Oct. 31, 2003:

The clash started when one vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade that ricocheted off the roof of the vehicle.

Eight members went after the assailants.

At the same time, Good, Briscoe and a third soldier in a second vehicle provided security. It was then that Briscoe was hit.

As Briscoe was loaded into the vehicle, Good provided cover fire. Because they had no radio communication, Good then drove the vehicle through small-arms fire to tell the others they were going to the base camp.

But before they could get there, the vehicle was disabled by small-arms and machine-gun fire. Good then negotiated with an Iraqi man in a dilapidated Toyota to drive them to the base camp. Good said he had been taught some Arabic during his training.

Good said he was never worried that the Iraqi would hurt them.

“We were still armed,” Good said.

After dropping Briscoe off, Good returned to the fight with other comrades to assist those left behind. Those left “fought in a street-by-street battle” and at times were outnumbered 4-to-1, according to an Army chronology of events that day.

The unit regrouped that night, then returned the next day to kill five more insurgents and capture 18 others, the Army said.

Staff Sgt. William Thomas Payne

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 1, 2005 — Staff Sgt. William Thomas Payne of the 1st Cavalry Division received the United States third highest award for heroism in combat Feb. 27 during a brief ceremony held at the crossed sabers monument in central Baghdad.

Although Maj. Gen. Pete Chiarelli, the division's commander, was on hand to present the award, Payne took the unique opportunity to have the medal pinned on him by his father, Carl Payne, a Department of the Army employee working in Iraq.

"I could never be more proud," said the elder Payne, a retired Army tanker.

"As a parent it's like a double edged sword though," he said, speaking of his sons actions. "I'm glad he was recognized for the duty that he did, but it is tough to know that your son risked his life in a situation like that."

"I've read a lot of citations since I've been here, but I have read none that talks of any greater act of heroism than what Staff Sgt. Payne did that day." Maj. Gen. Pete Chiarelli"

Payne, from Benford, Okla., and an infantryman assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry Regiment, is credited with rescuing a group of soldiers from a disabled Bradley fighting vehicle while under fire last September.

"Staff Sgt. Payne displayed gallantry and valor that was truly amazing," Chiarelli said. "He did it in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Baghdad - Sheik Maroof."

The neighborhood has many areas that have been dubbed with nicknames like "Grenade Alley", and "Purple Heart Lane" by the soldiers who regularly patrol it. The infamous Haifa Street runs along the northern border.

"I've read a lot of citations since I've been here," Chiarelli added, "but I have read none that talks of any greater act of heroism than what Staff Sgt. Payne did that day."

During the late morning hours of Sept. 12, 2004, Payne's battalion was wrapping up an operation on Haifa Street. As Bradley fighting vehicles patrolled the streets, soldiers on the ground set up defensive positions in order to pick up other soldiers that had been manning observation posts in high-rise buildings throughout the night.

Payne and his dismounted squad were in their position along the side of the street when the unthinkable happened - a car laden with explosives sped onto the street and detonated into the rear of a Bradley.

"I looked back," Payne explained, "it was like; there is no way that this was happening."

A split second later the blasts powerful concussion hit his squad knocking one soldier to the ground.

"When I heard the concussion I knew it was real and it was time to go," he said.

Although Staff Sgt. William Thomas Payne was the recipient of the Silver Star medal, he credits his squad for their teamwork in the successful rescue of wounded soldiers from a burning armored vehicle last September.

While Maj. Gen. Pete Chiarelli watches, Carl Payne pins the Silver Star medal on his son, Staff Sgt. William Thomas Payne. Payne was awarded the decoration for his heroic actions on Haifa Street last September. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. John Queen, 3rd BCT Public Affairs

The force of the blast disabled the 33 ton Bradley bringing it to a halt. It's rear ramp was engulfed in flames and the upper cargo hatch was blown off.

Small arms fire began to rain onto the street, so Payne had Sgt. Richard Frisbie shift the squad into a new position so they could provide cover fire while he and Spc. Chase Ash went to help the soldiers in the Bradley.

"Luckily I had someone there to help out," Payne said. "I had a soldier to keep control of the squad and another to help me with the wounded."

Payne and Ash ran 50 meters to the burning vehicle while insurgents fired on them. At the Bradley, Payne climbed up on top and helped two of the crewman out of the turret. He then turned his attention to the infantrymen still inside the crew compartment. One by one he pulled them up through the damaged cargo hatch.

"I lowered them down the side of the Bradley to Spc. Ash so he could get them to safety," Payne said. "There was a lot of gunfire going on."

Within seconds of retrieving the wounded soldiers from the Bradley the vehicle's load of ammunition began to cook off from the heat and fire.

According to Payne the whole series of events lasted nearly five minutes.

"All the training just kicked in," Payne said about what happened. "It's hard to explain, I didn't really have time to think about it."

Once back in a safe position on the south side of the street Payne's squad teamed together again to further protect the rescued soldiers as the medic treated them.

"Some of the wounded were unable to get their equipment out of the Bradley," Payne explained. "We had one soldier that didn't have his helmet and another was missing his weapon."

Payne's men began giving them whatever piece of protective gear they could spare.

"They were giving up goggles and things like that," Payne added. "They were giving them anything they could to provide them better protection than what they had when they got out of the vehicle."

When it was safe enough, Payne and his soldiers put the wounded into another Bradley for evacuation to the combat support hospital in the International Zone.

"I owe everything to my squad," Payne said. "If my squad wasn't there I couldn't have completed that mission. My squad was there for me - that's what it comes down to."

1st Lt. Neil Prakash

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SCUNION, BA’QUBAH, Iraq -- After leading his platoon through a fierce onslaught, enemy fire pounding them from every direction, 1st Lt. Neil Prakash went back in for more.

First Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. John R.S. Batiste joined Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment at FOB Scunion Jan. 14 to award this 24-year-old tank platoon leader one of the military’s highest honors - the Silver Star Medal.

“An incredible officer, his accomplishments on 24 June are clearly heroic,” said Batiste. “He sets a very high standard for every one of us. I guarantee veterans of the past are standing very tall right now.”

Although born in India and maintaining strong ties to the Indian community, Prakash was raised in Syracuse, New York, in what he called a very patriotic American household.

An ROTC cadet at Johns Hopkins University, he planned to follow in the footsteps of his mother, father and older brother - all doctors - and attend medical school. But after attending an ROTC Branch Orientation during his senior year, he knew what he was meant to do.

“There was this colonel, he was armored cav, so he had a Stetson and spurs,” said Prakash. “He was standing on his tank and he was like ‘alright listen up you  (&$(@$#^, if you want 72 tons of pure power underneath you…’ and he just went off.”

Prakash made up his mind on the spot and has never regretted it since, he said.

And on the morning of June 24, he was ready.

After spending all night and morning patrolling and setting up observation posts around the city, 1st platoon pulled in to FOB Scunion at about 10:00 a.m.

“Capt. Fowler came sprinting over, all out of wind, and says ‘Alright, the whole company is going in to Ba’qubah,’” said Prakash. “I’ve just been given the order. Ba’qubah is under siege - the police station, the CMOC - all have been attacked, so we’re going in.”

The company geared up and by 10:45 a.m., was maneuvering south into Ba’qubah with 1st platoon in the lead. They were to seize and secure a set of twin bridges and set up a blocking position to prevent the enemy from reinforcing.

As they advanced toward their objective, they began receiving reports of enemy activity in the city. Four-man RPG teams had been spotted on rooftops, as well as dismounted enemy infantry in alleyways. They were told to expect IED and RPG ambushes by a well-trained enemy who meant to stand and fight.

“This was the first time I even got a little bit nervous. I mean, ever, since I got here,” said Prakash. “I just got this weird feeling. Everything was silent, there was no movement. And then all of the sudden something blew up behind me.”

It took the crew about one hour to fight their way through the next one kilometer stretch of road. Official battle reports count 23 IEDs and 20-25 RPG teams in that short distance, as well as multiple machine-gun nests, and enemy dismounts armed with small arms and hand grenades.

Because enemy dismounts were attempting to throw hand grenades into the tank’s open hatches, Prakash ordered the tanks to open protected mode – bringing the hatches down, leaving them open only a crack.

As the lead vehicle, Prakash’s tank took the brunt of the attack, sustaining blasts from multiple IEDs and at least seven standard and armor piercing RPGs. The enemy fired mainly at the lead tanks, aiming for the few vulnerable spots. One round blew the navigation system completely off of the vehicle, while another well-aimed blast disabled his turret.

Although unable to rotate the turret, Prakash continued in the lead, navigating with a map and maneuvering his tank in order to continue engaging the enemy with the main weapon system and his .50 caliber machine-gun. He watched as men on rooftops sprayed down at his tank with machine-guns and small arms.

“I just remember thinking, ‘I hope these bullets don’t go in this one inch of space,’” said Prakash. “Looking out the hatch, I’m spraying guys and they’re just falling. They would just drop - no blood, no nothing. We just kept rolling, getting shot at from everywhere.”

The platoon was finally ordered to turn around and head back north in order to maintain contact with the enemy and to establish a defensive perimeter, allowing a recovery team to retrieve a downed vehicle.

Prakash took the opportunity to move his tank back to FOB Scunion for repairs and provide escort for medical evacuations. After assisting with repairs, he and his crew immediately moved back into position and requested to resume the lead.

Moving south back through the city, they encountered no resistance. Once they neared their objective, however, Prakash identified and engaged an enemy re-supply truck, destroying the vehicle and its contents.

“We blasted it with a main round from about 100 meters away. The thing just blew to shreds,” he said. “You could see the tubes from the launchers go flying in the air.”

The men encountered no further resistance as they moved to the objective, where they established a blocking position until they were relieved the following morning.

By battle’s end, the platoon was responsible for 25 confirmed destroyed enemy and an estimated 50 to 60 additional destroyed enemy personnel. Prakash was personally credited with the destruction of eight enemy strong-points, one enemy re-supply vehicle, and multiple enemy dismounts.

“He led the way,” said Alpha Company Commander Capt. Paul Fowler. “He’s a pleasure to command because he doesn’t require very much direction. He uses his own judgment and he’s simply an outstanding young lieutenant.” 


Sgt. 1st Class Gary Villalobos

Sgt. 1st Class Gary Villalobos of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment was awarded the Silver Star Medal Oct. 12 for his gallantry in combat while outnumbered by insurgents June 7 in Tal Afar, Iraq.

During a squadron operation in Tal Afar, Villalobos was tasked to follow and assist an Iraqi Army platoon and two members of the 1st Brigade Military Transition Team – one being Lt. Col. Terrence Crowe. After the first member of the team was injured during a raid on the platoon’s first target, Villalobos, Crowe and the Iraqi soldiers came under heavy attack from hand grenades, an improvised explosive device, rocket propelled grenades and machine gun fire.

Both Villalobos and Crowe maneuvered down an alleyway where five insurgents ambushed the squad. All but two of the Iraqi Army Soldiers retreated, leaving Crowe and Villalobos. Crowe was hit numerous times in the lower abdomen, and fell to the ground 10 feet in front of Villalobos.

Villalobos reported the downed officer and returned fire. He called for armor support and killed at least one insurgent with a grenade. Rather than leave his fallen comrade, Villalobos risked his life to evacuate Crowe to a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, preventing insurgents from capturing his body.

“To this day, I’m still amazed that I did not break contact with the enemy,” Villalobos said. “If I had a split second to think, I probably would have broke contact. I just instinctively stayed and fought until the enemy broke contact.”

Sgt. Donald Walters

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — A year after he was buried, the Army honored Sgt. Donald Walters with the Silver Star for the actions in Iraq that cost him his life.

Walters, 33, formerly of Kansas City, Mo., received the commendation posthumously during a ceremony at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, where he is buried. Walters was a member of the 507th Maintenance Company from Fort Bliss, Texas, that was ambushed in southern Iraq on March 23, 2003.

Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, who served in Iraq as the commanding general of the Army’s V Corps, presented the Silver Star to Walters’ widow, Stacie, and his mother, Arlene Walters, who has sought a better accounting of her son’s death to reflect his actions.

In the ambush, which occurred just days after the start of the war, 11 soldiers were killed and six captured, including Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was initially credited with putting up a fierce fight during the battle. Lynch has said she did not fire a shot during the ambush. Lynch was later rescued from an Iraqi hospital.

“The exact events during the ambush in Nasariyah will never be completely known but to God and by those who perished in the struggle,” Wallace said.

Walters, of Salem, Ore., had initially been awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. Autopsy reports indicate he died of gunshot and two stab wounds to the abdomen.

Wallace said Walters displayed a courage that reflected his gallantry to serve his country and fellow soldiers caught in the ambush.

His mother and U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley, D-Ore., have sought an Army investigation to correct earlier reports that credited Lynch with holding off Iraqi troops.

Walters, a veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, is also survived by three daughters.

Master Sergeant Anthony R. Yost

MILLINGTON, Mich. — An Army Special Forces soldier from Michigan who spent nearly two decades serving in the military was killed in an explosion detonated by a suicide bomber in Mosul, Iraq, his parents said.

Master Sgt. Anthony Yost, a 39-year-old native of Millington, who had been in the military for 19 years, died after the explosion at a building Friday, his father, Donald Yost of Millington, told The Flint Journal.

Anthony Yost was assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group based in Fort Carson, CO, the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg and most recently the 3rd batallion, 3rd Special Forces group out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He was a patriotic and dedicate soldier with many years of service. He had received many medals including the Meritorious Service Medal, six Army Commendation Medals and six Army Achievement Medals.

“They said he was a hero, the way he died,” Yost’s mother, Penny Cairnduff, of Linden, said of soldiers who on Saturday notified her of her son’s death.

Cairnduff said her son, a graduate of Millington High School, spoke five languages and was a sniper expert. She remembered her son as a giving person who loved his children and family.

“He was a smart kid. He loved his job,” she said. Andy was proud of his Native American heritage and was a member of the Kiowa-Cheyenne Native American tribe in Oklahoma. Many knew Andy by his beloved nicknames "Apache" and "Chief."

Anthony Yost is survived by a daughter, Cheyenne, 13, of Clio, and a son, A.J., 2, of North Carolina, Donald Yost said. His wife, Joann, also lives in North Carolina.

Kris K. Currie, 39, a secretary at Millington Elementary School, graduated with Yost from Millington High School.

“I remember how much he loved basketball and played on the basketball and baseball teams for the school,” Currie told The Saginaw News.

Donald Yost said his son had been in Iraq since spring, but they spoke about once a week.

Sgt. Mathew Zedwick, U.S. Army

Sgt. Mathew Zedwick, of Corvallis, Ore., salutes from the 1st Cavalry Division Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, after being awarded the Silver Star Medal Feb. 8 at an awards ceremony at Camp Taji, Iraq.

Despite being wounded and under heavy small arms fire from the enemy, Zedwick saved the life of his squad leader when he pulled him from a burning vehicle after they were hit with a roadside bomb. Zedwick then sheltered the wounded Soldier with his own body when a second bomb exploded.

After carrying the Soldier to safety, Zedwick returned to the flaming vehicle through the enemy’s assault and attempted to retrieve the body of the gunner who was mortally wounded before rounds began cooking off in the vehicle.


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