27 mar. 2012

12 Rangers get Silver Stars for Afghan heroics




Twelve soldiers from 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, were awarded the Silver Star during a ceremony March 16 at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga. The soldiers were honored — two of them posthumously — with the nation’s third-highest award for valor for actions spanning two deployments to Afghanistan.

Here are their stories.

SGT. 1ST CLASS MICHAEL A. EIERMANN
On May 19, 2010, more than 20 armed insurgents attacked Bagram Airfield, one of the largest U.S. bases in Afghanistan, with direct and indirect fire. The enemy breached the outer perimeter of Bagram, and the platoon-sized element of enemy fighters began a coordinated attack against multiple guard towers and observation points.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael A. Eiermann, a platoon sergeant, saw tracer rounds and rocket-propelled grenades flying over his position inside Bagram.

Eiermann, who has deployed 13 times and is now a first sergeant, and his soldiers had just arrived in Afghanistan the night before. He immediately ordered his men to get their weapons and seek cover.

As the battle raged on, the Rangers heard a loud explosion, and the soldiers at the inner walls of Bagram’s security perimeter began calling for a medic.

“I grabbed my platoon medic and a squad and ran toward the portion of the wall where they were calling for a medic,” Eiermann said.

The soldiers ran about 250 meters toward an active minefield that was on the border of the inner perimeter of Bagram. The wounded had stepped on a land mine.

Eiermann and his medic moved through the minefield under enemy small arms, machine gun and RPG fire, with Eiermann clearing the route to the casualties with his footsteps. When they reached the casualties, who were about 20 meters inside the minefield, Eiermann directed and coordinated the treatment of the two critically wounded soldiers.

One of the soldiers had lost a leg, while the other had been peppered with shrapnel from the exploding land mine, Eiermann said.

Eiermann continued to expose himself to sporadic direct and indirect enemy fire by making multiple trips through the minefield to get litters for the wounded.

After the medic treated the soldiers, he and Eiermann moved them out of the minefield and into a waiting ambulance.

Eiermann downplayed his actions on that day. “To me, they were guys who needed help, and my medic and I were in the right place with the right resources to render aid, so we did,” he said.

SGT. TODD D. MARK AND SGT. DYLAN J. MAYNARD
During a combat operation on Nov. 15, 2010, in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, Sgt. Dylan J. Maynard and Sgt. Todd D. Mark and his military working dog chased a group of enemy fighters down a steep cliff while Staff Sgt. Kevin M. Pape conducted overwatch on nearby high ground.

As the group moved toward their objective, Pape killed one enemy fighter and then moved to kill a second enemy fighter. As Pape fought off the enemy, he unknowingly exposed himself to a cave where 15 to 20 enemy fighters were holed up. The enemy hit Pape in the abdomen with machine-gun fire, mortally wounding him.

Mark, who was about 10 meters away, moved toward the cave, killing the enemy machine gunner. As he continued to move toward the cave, he was joined by Maynard, who saw Pape fall to the ground. The two Rangers engaged six to eight enemy fighters who were fleeing the cave, killing at least two of them.

Maynard then crawled toward Pape while Mark remained exposed in front of the cave to provide security. At that time, Mark reported what had happened over the radio and talked reinforcements into their location. When the platoon sergeant and medic arrived, Mark filled them in and continued to find enemy targets inside the cave.

As the soldiers moved toward Pape, they received two bursts of machine-gun fire. Mark, standing exposed in the enemy’s field of fire, engaged the enemy machine gunner, either killing him or causing him to seek cover.

This enabled Maynard and the other Rangers to pull Pape to safety so the medic could tend to his wounds. Maynard and the medic worked for an hour to treat Pape, who did not survive.

Under intense enemy fire, Mark stood his ground, calmly engaging the enemy and providing security for his fellow soldiers. His actions denied the enemy the chance to flee the cave or regroup and assault the Rangers.

Maynard, meanwhile, moved Pape to the medevac landing zone, all the while under enemy fire. Maynard killed one enemy fighter, but during this time, Sgt. Eric Cox sustained a gunshot wound to his neck and jaw and fell about 10 feet off a path and into the open, vulnerable to enemy fire.

Maynard and two other Rangers quickly raced toward Cox and dragged him back to safety. Cox has since recovered.

Once at the landing zone, Maynard continued to provide security and fight off the enemy, leading his men until the helicopter arrived to evacuate the casualties.

Maynard said he didn’t think twice about running into the open to get Pape or Cox.

“I just knew I needed to get out there and get them as quickly as possible,” he said. “If I was shot, I know every man that stands beside me would run out there themselves, they would put themselves in harm’s way to get to me.”

That’s why Maynard, who has deployed seven times, said he has mixed feelings about receiving the Silver Star.

“It’s pretty hard to say you’re deserving of that when you’ve seen so many amazing, valorous things occur,” he said. “But it’s cool to accept it and it’s humbling, and it’s good to know I did my job right.”

SGT. 1ST CLASS MICHAEL A. DUCHESNE
On June 13, 2011, Sgt. 1st Class Michael A. Duchesne, a platoon sergeant, and his soldiers were part of a daylight mission to interdict a suspected suicide bomber.

When Duchesne arrived at the target compound, he saw a man trying to escape. He sent a portion of his soldiers to stop the fleeing man while he and the medic covered the team’s sector of fire. At that moment, the enemy inside the compound opened fire. Duchesne was hit in the chest plate, which caused the bullet to break off and pierce his right forearm.

Despite his wounds, which later would require 22 staples to close, Duchesne continued to fight and direct his soldiers’ fire onto known enemy positions.

“I had a medic with me and he was able to bandage me up really quickly,” Duchesne said. “I wasn’t losing blood or anything like that, and I felt I could still run things on the ground.”

Duchesne refused to leave his men even after his platoon leader called for a medevac. Duchesne also refused painkillers, knowing that they would impair his ability to fight.

“I think when you get a traumatic injury like that, your body tends to manage the pain itself,” he said. “It was manageable pain.”

He then moved to the northern end of the compound, directed effective fires and lobbed grenades at enemy positions. During these critical moments in the battle, Duchesne gave his rifle to one of his squad leaders whose own weapon had malfunctioned. For the next 90 minutes of fighting, Duchesne was armed only with a sidearm, but he continued to fight and maneuver his platoon.

When the force finally assaulted the target compound, Duchesne discovered an enemy fighter in the rubble, holding a grenade. Duchesne quickly killed the enemy with his pistol.

“Despite his wounds and loss of blood, his courage under fire and calm, competent decisions prevented further injury to the assault force,” according to the narrative accompanying his award.

Duchesne finally was medevaced almost three hours after he was wounded. He spent about three weeks recovering, then returned to duty. He downplays his actions on that day.

“It’s nice to be recognized, but I don’t feel like I did anything special,” he said. “It’s just one of those things that comes with the job.”

STAFF SGT. ETHAN P. KILLEEN
During a raid on a known enemy village in Paktika province on June 13, 2011, a joint task force whose mission was to kill or capture terrorists was engaged on three separate occasions within an hour of arriving on the ground. Staff Sgt. Jeremy A. Katzenberger was killed, and the task force called for a quick-reaction force to be brought in to clear the primary target compounds.

Staff Sgt. Ethan P. Killeen’s team was tasked with clearing the compounds. After successfully clearing the first compound, Killeen prepared his squad to move on to the second compound. After the escalation of force elicited no response, the Rangers moved to assault and clear the southern buildings and then the eastern portion of the compound.

As the soldiers entered the final building on the southeastern side of the compound, Killeen, his Bravo team and the mortar section leader found themselves in a small room that led down a narrow hallway that seemed to be a dead end. When Killeen reached the elbow in the hallway, he discovered an opening to the north. He immediately came under heavy machine gun and small arms fire from the back of an adjoining room.

“Probably on my second step into the room, I received AK47 and [machine gun] fire,” he said. He was shot in the upper left leg.

“I was able to turn and engage the individual who shot me,” Killeen said. “Then he shot me in the left hand, I shot him, he shot me. But I was able to keep engaging him.”

Killeen sustained multiple gunshot wounds to his left hand and arm and his left leg. As the shooting intensified, the room began to fill with smoke and dust. When he realized that the rest of his squad and the rest of the QRF in the adjacent compound were at risk of being ambushed from behind, Killeen rolled onto his back and engaged the machine gun position while simultaneously warning his squad about the threat they faced.

In the chaos, a military working dog entered the building and became disoriented by the dust and smoke.

“Our canine came in the room, noticed me and mistakenly latched on to me, thinking I was an enemy combatant,” Killeen said. The dog bit down on Killeen’s right — and uninjured — forearm.

“They’re good biters,” he said with a laugh. “I can attest to that.”

Killeen found himself firing at a heavily fortified machine gun position that was less than three meters away while severely wounded and with a dog latched to his shooting arm. Despite the odds, Killeen knew that his squad faced imminent danger, and if given the chance, the enemy machine gunner could shift his fire to the squad.

Killeen fought off the dog so he could keep firing at the enemy. He also continued to call out to his squad through the dense smoke, dust and enemy fire, alerting them to the enemy’s location and the makeup of their position.

Killeen refused to give up his ground, remaining where he was until his squad reached him and tried to move him to safety. Even then, Killeen refused to go, gesturing toward the barricaded enemy fighters with his fractured arm and mangled left hand.

“The thing I was thinking most was to stay in the fight,” Killeen said. “I just wanted to keep engaging the enemy and keep swinging. Luckily, I was able to fight through it.”

Killeen, who has been deployed seven times, said he is humbled to receive the Silver Star.

“You’re not sure whether you feel comfortable receiving the same award as so many other outstanding soldiers,” he said. “You hope you’re worthy.”

Killeen said he has mostly recovered from his wounds but still has work to do on his left hand. The gunshot to his hand almost severed his thumb and damaged the bone, tendon and nerves around the thumb.

“It shouldn’t be too long until I’m back to full strength,” he said. “For the most part, I’ll be running and gunning soon.”

CAPT. JONATHAN F. LOGAN
On July 21, 2011, soldiers moved out to destroy an enemy encampment of about 30 armed fighters. As the soldiers moved toward their objective, they came under heavy fire and Capt. Jonathan F. Logan’s element became pinned down from “what seemed like every angle,” he said.

As the soldiers continued to fight, one of the Rangers was shot in the shoulder. Unaware of the enemy’s location, the Rangers took cover in a wadi, or dry riverbed, where they remained pinned down by intense and accurate enemy fire. Another team from the task force set up a support-by-fire position and tried to suppress the enemy fire. But as they moved up the ridgeline, the enemy fired on them, killing one service member.

The team broke contact and recovered its casualty, leaving Logan and his men isolated and surrounded by a well-armed enemy.

“At that point, I had several enemy personnel surrounding my team’s position,” Logan said. “Most importantly, one of my soldiers was shot three times and severely wounded, and he and two others were pinned down behind a small mountain face or rock.”

The enemy continued moving in on the group from all sides.

Logan, realizing his team was pinned down by fire from the north and east, quickly took charge and ordered two of his soldiers to coordinate the suppression of the enemy to the east. Logan then exposed himself to heavy enemy fire as he began climbing 130 meters up the ridgeline to kill the enemy to the south. Under heavy fire, Logan got within 15 feet of the fortified enemy position and fired his M4 and threw a grenade at the two fighters inside.

“I was in a position where I could climb a rock face and move up and destroy that position,” Logan said.

His actions saved the lives of three of his teammates and destroyed a fighting position that had pinned down and inflicted multiple casualties on the assault force. But Logan wasn’t done.

“I noticed several more enemy personnel coming out of a cave that was a little further up this mountain we were fighting outside of,” he said. “They continued to engage us, and the only way to eliminate or at least suppress that threat in order to allow us to regroup, I had to move up again and mark that enemy position for our helicopters to engage.”

Logan crawled another 120 meters or so to the second fortified enemy fighting position. Out of grenades, he used a smoke grenade to mark the enemy’s position for an air weapons team. But the team was unable to find and engage the enemy because of their position and the steep cliffs on both sides of the wadi.

Logan, knowing it was impossible to safely fall back without the air weapons team engaging the enemy bunker, again exposed himself to enemy fire and placed a flash-bang at the entrance of the entrenched fighting position.

Using the heat signature from the flash-bang, the air weapons team fired on the enemy position and gave Logan enough cover to rejoin the rest of his team.

However, the area was still hot, with the enemy on all sides and bunker complexes that had not been cleared.

Logan determined that the only way his team would survive was to authorize fire missions danger-close to their position. He authorized the joint terminal attack controller to call in enemy positions to the air weapons teams.

After three danger-close fire missions, Logan quickly organized a plan to get his Rangers out of the kill zone. The plan involved hitting the last remaining enemy position that separated the Rangers from the rest of the joint task force with a Hellfire missile, and coordinating even more cover from the air weapons team as his soldiers bounded back and suppressed the enemy from the ground.

The entire engagement seemed to last “forever,” Logan said, but he downplayed his actions.

“I was in the right place in the right time, doing my job, because I want to bring my men home,” he said.

SGT. JONATHAN K. PENEY (POSTHUMOUS AWARD)
On the night of May 31, 2010, soldiers from D Company, 1st Battalion, conducted a helicopter assault raid.

Sgt. Jonathan K. Peney, a platoon medic, joined the ground forces as they moved to clear the objective and establish security so that they could continue their operations the following day. Shortly after dawn, multiple concealed enemy fighters began firing on the soldiers. Enemy fire was pouring in from the south, east and west, almost immediately hitting Sgt. James Knuppenburg, a Ranger team leader who was on a rooftop on the northern end of the objective.

“We were taking [rocket-propelled grenades], recoilless rifle fire, machine gun fire, AK47 fire, and we still had that team on the rooftop,” said Capt. Andrew Fisher, the physician assistant for 1st Battalion who was on the ground that day.

Knuppenburg was hit twice — in the right arm and on the right side of his chest. It soon became obvious that the enemy was targeting the squad that was pinned down and exposed on the roof. When the call came for a medic, Peney didn’t hesitate, Fisher said.

“The whole time we were under such heavy, heavy fire,” he said. “It was such heavy contact that no one could move, but without hesitation, he just went up there. He heard his buddy was hurt and he went up there.”

Peney, who was in the main courtyard of the objective, ran to the base of a ladder that was leaning against the south wall of the compound and climbed up through the barrage of enemy fire to reach Knuppenburg. When he reached the top of the ladder, Peney was shot in the lower right flank, right above his hipbone, Fisher said.

Peney made it to the roof, but once he climbed over the ledge, he collapsed, Fisher said. Fisher, who was in a different part of the compound, and two other Rangers rushed up the ladder to treat Peney and Knuppenburg. Peney later died from his wounds.

The attack on the soldiers would end up lasting more than an hour, with enemy fighters firing on the soldiers from three directions and from distances as close as 150 meters.

Peney’s action “inspired the men of the platoon to gain fire superiority over the enemy,” according to the narrative accompanying his award.

The platoon poured an “overwhelming” volley of fire, enabling the pinned-down squad to move off the roof, and the soldiers continued to repel enemy attacks for the rest of the day.

Fisher, who arrived at 1st Battalion at the same time as Peney, described the young soldier as confident and intelligent.

“He was very inquisitive and always trying to pull one on you and see if he could stump you a little bit,” he said. “He was a skinny little kid … but very determined and a very happy kid who really enjoyed doing his job. He was just fearless.”

STAFF SGT. TREVOR D. TOW
Staff Sgt. Trevor D. Tow was a squad leader when he and his soldiers from 2nd Platoon, C Company, came under intense enemy fire during an operation in Afghanistan on Aug. 18, 2010.

On that mission, the soldiers had cleared two compounds in a village controlled by the enemy and were moving to clear a third. When they got there, Tow led soldiers from 2nd Squad to the second floor, up an exterior staircase. As they cleared the area, an enemy fighter dropped two grenades and fired 20 to 30 rounds from an AK47 down onto the soldiers.

Tow immediately returned fire and directed his soldiers to do the same. Spc. Christopher Wright was hit by multiple AK47 rounds, and seeing his soldier wounded and unable to defend himself, Tow moved alone farther out into the open to engage the enemy.

When the enemy fighter moved back and sought cover, Tow reloaded his M4 and gave directions to his soldiers, all the while staying in the open to provide security. As his men moved Wright to cover, another enemy fighter appeared on the roof and began firing on the soldiers.

Tow, seeing the threat to his men, turned on his tactical light to distract the enemy fighter and draw attention to himself.

Tow stood his ground, and with the enemy only 10 feet away, he began fighting back, exchanging fire with the enemy fighter.

With the enemy fighter focused on Tow, the rest of the squad pulled Wright to safety. At that point, a second enemy fighter appeared and began firing on Tow with an AK47.

With rounds from both enemy weapons flying by his head, body and feet and hitting the ground around him, Tow continued to fight in the open by himself. Another Ranger then moved into the open to fight alongside Tow, who shortly afterward killed one enemy fighter. The two Rangers then focused their fire on the second enemy fighter, killing him.

As the rest of the squad provided aid to Wright, Tow remained in the open. As he was providing security for his men, he saw a third enemy fighter moving toward them. That enemy fighter threw three grenades that landed as close as 10 feet away from Tow.

Tow continued to stand his ground, firing back at the insurgent. The two exchanged fire until Tow managed to kill the enemy.

Wright did not survive.

SGT. MARTIN A. LUGO (POSTHUMOUS AWARD)
On Aug. 18, 2010, the same day that Tow and his soldiers were on their mission, Sgt. Martin A. Lugo, a rifle squad leader, and his soldiers were in a different part of Afghanistan, preparing for their own operation.

Lugo and his team were tasked with isolating the northern side of the tree line and suppressing the enemy to allow another team to assault from the south to the north.

However, the assault force came under effective enemy fire. Lugo and his team immediately laid down suppressive fire, but realizing that the assault force was pinned down and the entrenched enemy had superior cover, Lugo led his team toward the northernmost side of the trench. This enabled the assault force to move to cover.

As Lugo moved toward the enemy position, he identified two enemy fighters with automatic weapons. With no regard for his own safety, Lugo moved up until he was just meters away from the enemy. He exposed himself to engage and eliminate the enemy, but was mortally wounded in the process.

His actions are credited with saving the lives of at least five of his teammates.

STAFF SGT. JOHN M. ROWLAND
As a Ranger assault force prepared to raid an enemy compound on Aug. 28, 2010, they were spotted by an enemy fighter.

Staff Sgt. John M. Rowland, a squad leader, climbed onto the roof of the southwestern corner of the target compound, where an enemy fighter began shooting at him with an AK47.

Rowland fired back, killing the insurgent. This action, however, drew fire from three more enemy fighters, including one who had a machine gun that was oriented toward the door of the compound.

Because of Rowland’s quick reaction and engagement of the enemy, the greatest volume of fire was directed at him instead of the main assault force.

During this time, another Ranger joined Rowland on the roof and they continued to draw fire from the enemy. Exposed and without cover, Rowland maintained his position and continued to fight, killing two enemy fighters and severely wounding the fighter with the machine gun.

Rowland’s “accurate engagement and destruction of three entrenched fighters enabled the assault force to gain entry into the compound without receiving devastating fire and successfully secure the target compound,” according to the narrative accompanying his award.

Rowland is credited with not only saving the lives of his fellow soldiers, but those of the “numerous” women and children in the compound.

SGT. 1ST CLASS KEITH A. MORGES AND SGT. ALAN D. SOLOMON
On Oct. 26, 2010, soldiers received intelligence showing that a high-value target had been located in a small village.

Information received throughout the day showed armed enemy fighters were moving in and out of the village, and aircraft flying in the area were being engaged with small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

As the Rangers prepared to move toward the target compound, they began taking fire from an enemy machine gun position. As the soldiers moved toward the compound, they heard enemy fighters were moving toward them, and they began receiving harassing fire from multiple directions.

Once the Rangers entered and cleared the compound, they began taking effective machine gun and small arms fire from the west and southwest.

Sgt. 1st Class Keith A. Morges, the platoon sergeant, immediately left the compound and moved to the west side to reinforce the blocking position there. He bounded forward about 25 meters under a hail of enemy machine gun and small arms fire, suppressing the enemy positions as he moved.

Once he got to the blocking position, Morges moved out of a covered position multiple times so he could engage and suppress the enemy, which kept attacking from multiple directions.

Also reinforcing the blocking position was Sgt. Alan D. Solomon, who began providing suppressive fire on the enemy.

After being under fire for about 40 minutes, Morges continued to engage the enemy positions and coordinated for an ammunition resupply for the soldiers at the blocking position.

To get the ammo, Solomon exposed himself to heavy enemy fire as he ran back to the compound. Carrying as much ammunition as he could, Solomon ran back to the blocking position, again under intense enemy fire.

When enemy RPGs landed near the blocking position, Solomon ran through the incoming fire and found seven of his comrades on the ground.

As the platoon medic, Solomon quickly and deliberately triaged all the Rangers and focused on the two most critically wounded patients.

Meanwhile, Morges came up with a plan to break contact under fire and move the casualties to safety.

As his Rangers moved the wounded, Morges continued to suppress the enemy, not leaving until everyone else had moved to cover. He then led the Rangers away to a different position and helped establish a helicopter landing zone.

As the helicopters landed to pick up the platoon, they began receiving heavy enemy fire from the southern wood line. Solomon used his body to shield his patients from the gunfire while Morges remained in the open to suppress the enemy so his soldiers could get onto the helicopters. After loading his patients, Solomon then joined Morges in suppressing the enemy.

The men are credited with saving the lives of several platoon members.




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