Skip to comments.2003: A Season of Valor, Sacrifice ~ and Many Heroes
Posted on 12/27/2003 9:01:26 AM PST by Ragtime Cowgirl
Dave Eberhart, NewsMax.comProfiling just a select few of the bravest of the brave in the War on Terrorism is a vexing project -- until these invariably modest warriors themselves show the way by crediting their remarkable exploits to teamwork and reminding us that all who serve on the frontlines of freedom are our countrys heroes.
Monday, Dec. 22, 2003
Those that get singled out for our nations highest military decorations, in large measure, wear that decoration for all who have gone into harms way. Ask them, theyll tell you so.
Remarkably, when NewsMax caught up with a couple of decorated heroes back from the fighting in Iraq, it wasnt their own war stories that flowed, but the tale of valor of one of their own -- Sergeant First Class Paul Smith, Bravo Company, 11th Engineer Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division, who died heroically leading his troops in battle Friday, April 4, 2003, in Baghdad, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
As NewsMax reported on Oct. 8, 2003, Smith is the first soldier recommended for the Medal of Honor, the countrys highest decoration for valor in combat, since the Global War on Terrorism combat period began.
Staff Sergeant Charles McNally, also of the 11th Engineers, told NewsMax, I believe in my heart that he deserves and will get the award. His friend and fellow combat veteran, Sergeant E-5 David S. Spooner said simply, I agree.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, SFC Smith was a platoon sergeant/acting platoon leader in Bravo Company, which was in contact with Saddams forces nearly every day.
The drive on Baghdad from the south eventually carried the task force containing Smiths parent 11th Engineers into Saddam International Airport. By the morning of April 4, the aggressive U.S. force was well inside the airport complex, and a containment pen had to be quickly constructed to secure the enemy prisoners.
There was a tall wall paralleling the north side of the highway servicing the airport -- on the battalions flank just behind the front lines. Smith decided to punch a hole in it, so that the inside walls would form two sides of a triangular enclosure, and the open third side could be closed off with rolls of concertina wire.
At Smiths direction, an armored combat earthmover crashed through the wall and, while wire was being laid across the corner, one of his squads two armored vehicles moved toward a gate on the far side of the adjacent courtyard.
The Enemy Masses to Attack
When the driver pushed open the courtyard gate to open a field of fire, he immediately observed up to 100 enemy soldiers massed to attack. The only way out was the hole the engineers had put in the highway wall and the gate that faced the enemy, who began to open up on the U.S. troops with heavy fire --
Enemy soldiers stationed in trees and atop a nearby terrain-commanding tower fired a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades into the U.S ranks. An enemy mortar round hit the engineers lead armored vehicle, seriously wounding three soldiers inside.
Dodging fire, Smith helped evacuate them to an aid station, which was also coming under attack. The consummate professional, Smith promptly organized the engineers defenses, noting that all that stood between the attacking enemy and the task forces vulnerable headquarters were about 15 to 20 troops.
A second armored vehicle was hit by an RPG, but was not completely knocked out of action. Simultaneously, enemy soldiers began charging from the courtyard gate or scaling a section of the wall, jumping into the courtyard, which had become a deadly trap.
Smith took personal command of the smoking and damaged second armored personnel carrier, maneuvering the big vehicle into a position where he could bring its heavy .50-caliber machinegun fire to bear on the determined enemy.
Another remarkable soldier on the field that day, First Sergeant Tim Campbell, realized that they had to knock out the Iraqi position in the enemy-held tower. After consulting with Smith, Campbell led two soldiers to take the tower. Armed only with a light machinegun, a rifle and a pistol with one magazine, the small force advanced behind the smoke of the tall grass that had caught fire from exploding ammunition.
Constantly exposed to heavy enemy fire, Smith resolutely stood by his machine gun, yelling for more ammunition three times during the fight. The warrior blasted through 400 rounds before he was struck down and mortally wounded by the withering small arms fire.
According to the citation, his sustained fire killed 20 to 50 Iraqis, allowing American wounded to be evacuated, saving the aid station -- as well as the task force headquarters.
Later, back in the U.S., the senior U.S. commander on the ground in Iraq, Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, noted Smiths actions in an emotional speech. Wallace described how Smith told his men, Every time you hear the .50 caliber go silent, hand me up a can of ammo.
"The gun went silent three times," recalled Wallace. The fourth time, there was no call for more ammo. Smith had died in the service of his country, personally credited with saving the lives of so many of his comrades.
A much-decorated veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Smith was a 33-year-old from Tampa, Florida. He left behind a wife, a son and a daughter.
To the Shores of Tripoli and the Purple Heart
No Auld Lang Zyne tribute to the warriors of the War on Terrorism would be complete without a focus on the noblest of fraternities: recipients of the Purple Heart Medal for wounds received in battle.
Theres no one best example. Perhaps, however, Navy Capt. Stephen F. McCartney wrote dramatically and best of the Purple Heart.
In his own powerful words, the surgeon describes an early American bloodletting -- from the dangerous vantage point of his surgical hospital at Camp Okinawa, Iraq, a place that sat precariously close to the salient of the U.S. land campaign that hammered forward to liberate Baghdad in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
There, he and other doctors, nurses and corpsmen in MASH fashion stood fast under an umbrella of scud missiles to tend to the wounded warriors of the Marine Corps.
On board the first CH-46 helicopter returning from the forward edge of the battle area, Capt. McCartney finds a young USMC officer.
He is dead. Shot through the abdomen exiting in the lower back
It is controlled chaos. Calm determination describes our hospital company. All committed, all somewhat numbed. No one complains -- they just work. They all have the same blank look on their faces. They all remember the young officer. There is no more rationalizing, no more denials ... this is war
No one falters. A group of young Marines and a Navy corpsman arrive. All have leg injuries from landmines. The corpsman was blown up running to the aid of one of his injured Marines. Their muscular legs are horrifically deformed and shredded full of holes
Under the tent lights the shrapnel glistens and reflects from inside the wounds. The Marines are quiet, answering questions polite and dignified. Even their injuries and pain doesn't keep them from saying, Yes ma'am, no ma'am or Yes sir, no sir.
A helicopter drops off several USMC ambushed while taking an Iraqi surrender. Nine of their fellow Devil-Dogs are dead. An RPG has killed a corpsman from our hospital during battle in Iraq. Many people know him from San Diego. He had two children and a wife. He was twenty-six. Alpha Company begins to hurt
A young Marine behind me is being lifted by the stretcher-bearers for a journey to surgery... He looks down from the stretcher at the large puddle of his blood underneath and apologizes to the nurse for leaving a mess behind. He says his mother taught him to always clean up after himself. Looking at his face, it is clear it could not have been all that long ago. He appeared barely 18. I asked myself Where do these young men come from? What makes them able to do this?
The incoming patients continued for five to six days
One day we all apparently had the same epiphany, and to my knowledge we haven't spoken of the most painful events ever again. There just wasn't anything else to say. Words can't describe the feelings, so it's best to not speak about it anymore. Perhaps later the words will come.
Heroism in Afghanistan
Right behind the Medal of Honor in order of valor is the Distinguished Service Cross. A Special Forces leader holds the distinction of being awarded the first DSC since Vietnam.
Maj. Mark E. Mitchell, a Special Forces officer, was awarded the coveted and revered DSC for leading a team of 16 American and British soldiers into combat operations against about 500 Taliban and al Qaeda-trained fighters who had taken over a fortress near Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, where they had been imprisoned.
Major Mitchells citation states, His unparalleled courage under fire, decisive leadership and personal sacrifice were directly responsible for the success of the rescue operation and were further instrumental in ensuring the city of Mazar-e-Sharif did not fall back in the hands of the Taliban.
The Distinguished Service Cross was presented to Mitchell by Gen. Bryan Doug Brown, commander, U.S. Special Operations Command, in a ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
Like his Army comrades, above, the Major displayed the unerring modesty of the true hero:
It is a tremendous honor, Mitchell said. But I dont consider myself a hero. I am not personally convinced that my actions warranted more than a pat on the back. Wearing the Special Forces foreign-service combat patch on my shoulder and serving with the finest soldiers in the world is enough. I was just doing my job and our mission was accomplished.
Into the Sky
Our nations highest aviation award is the Distinguished Flying Cross. This past July Chief Warrant Officer 3 Olin R. Ashworth, an Apache helicopter pilot, was awarded the DFC for intrepid conduct during a dramatic hour and twenty minute-long battle between the 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment and Iraqi forces on the evening of March 23.
Ashworth led his company of war birds into the target area, coming immediately under an intense barrage of enemy ground-fire.
Most helicopters were damaged by the onslaught and some were forced to limp back to base. Although having sustained hits, Ashworth pressed the attack. When his wingman came under heavy machine gun fire, he swooped down into the fray, knocking out the gun positions that had marked his fellow aviator.
Once finally over the target area, his aircraft took a round in the canopy, which sprayed glass into his co-pilot/gunners face, blinding him.
Now flying his battered ship solo, Ashworths harrowing flight back to base was again interrupted by the enemy. His wingman again received continuous fire from a heavy caliber machine gun position, as well as a fusillade of rocket-propelled-grenades. With his wingmans guns jammed and most of his rockets already expended, Ashworth again swept in, knocking out the enemy position with rocket fire.
Later when interviewed by a DoD reporter, the modest Ashworth commented only, Its a team, whether youre out there or not. I could tear it [the DFC] up into pieces and give everybody part of it, because everybody was out there covering me.
Modesty aside, Ashworth is now the warrior with the highest decoration in his unit.
Down, Down the Field, Navy!
Chief Petty Officer Stephen Bass, a Navy SEAL, received the Navy Cross, the sailing services and the Marine Corps distinctive second-highest award for heroism -- during a rescue mission in Afghanistan.
As part of a U.S. and British special-operations mission to rescue missing Americans, Bass, according to his citation, was continuously engaged by small-arms, mortar and rocket-propelled-grenade fire and had to walk through a minefield to reach the Americans.
Bass advanced nearly one-quarter of a mile under constant enemy fire in an attempt to find one of the Americans. When he ran low on ammunition, the SEAL used weapons from dead enemy forces to continue his mission, which resulted in the accomplishment of his units mission.
Into the Wild Blue Yonder
Two F-117A Nighthawk pilots from the Air Forces 379th Air Expeditionary Wing at a forward-deployed desert air base in the Middle East were also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their actions during the opening salvos of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Initiating the air campaign, Lt. Col. David Toomey and Maj. Mark Hoehn flew the first sortie of the war -- a president-approved mission that targeted a senior Iraqi leadership compound in Baghdad where intelligence sources believed Saddam Hussein and other top regime leaders were holed up.
On desperately short notice, the pilots launched the sortie, with minimal planning material available, meeting up with aerial refueling and electronic warfare aircraft on their way to Baghdad.
Maj. Hoehns aircraft developed a malfunction during the flight and lost much of his communications ability. Despite the handicap, he drove on with superior airmanship, achieving complete surprise in the heavily defended target area.
Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Toomey also fought a weapons system malfunction. As the two war-birds entered into the heart of the Iraqi Integrated Air Defense System -- with daylight approaching -- they faced more than fifty strategic surface-to-air missile systems and more than two hundred anti-aircraft artillery sites.
Both pilots penetrated the defenses and placed enhanced precision munitions exactly on target -- within one second of the planned time over target.
Their performance in carrying out the mission was in the finest traditions of our Air Force.
U.S. Army Maj. Mark Mitchell, Special Forces soldier, is pinned with the second highest military decoration for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross, for combat actions in Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan, by Gen. Bryan "Doug" Brown, commander, U.S. Special Operations Command, Nov. 14, at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. U.S. Army photo by Jennifer Whittle
24 from famed Apache unit receive medals
BY DEBBIE STEVENSON
Herald Staff Writer
FORT HOOD Dave Williams and Ronald Young became household names after being taken captive when their Apache Longbow helicopter gunship was shot down by the Iraqis during a March 24 firefight.
But it was Chief Warrant Officer-3 Olin Ashworth whom many in the 1st Cavalry Division's Apache battalion credited with saving the day.
On Friday, the three warrant officers from the 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment's joined 21 others to be recognized for their heroism in a special awards ceremony Friday.
In the battalion's hangar at Robert Gray Army Airfield where the families had been parted and reunited earlier this year, the praise flowed for Ashworth.
"He was the stabilizing force in the fight," said his wingman, Chief Warrant Officer-4 Steven Kilgore. "He was always there. He was there to take out the target that was engaging me. It was amazing some of the things that he did."
Ashworth said the unit met up with the Medina Division in the first 30 minutes of the March 24 mission.
"We stayed on station as long as we could we were low on fuel," Ashworth said.
Despite heavy damage to his own helicopter, Kilgore said Ashworth stayed in the fierce fight and even led the group to cover another unit's mission until they were told to return to base.
Kilgore credits Ashworth with saving his life after his gun failed.
"My aircraft made it back out of that mission because he was there to cover my aircraft," Kilgore said. "Olin Ashworth is a hero. He's my hero and I think that he's one of those heroes that America should recognize as one of America's heroes."
During the award ceremony, Ashworth received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the day's top award.
Williams and Young received their prisoner of war medals along with the Air Medal for Valor, Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars during Friday's ceremony.
Williams and Young said they were pleased to finally share the stage with 22 of their unit colleagues.
" They were over there in the same ordeal as us," Young said. "Just as many bullets were going their way. Everybody got an equal opportunity to share the situation."
Standing in front of an Apache helicopter that still bore the bullet holes from the fight, Williams and Young said the ceremony also had brought closure.
They said they continue to monitor news reports from Iraq and pray for the troops who remain in Iraq.
"My heart goes out for them," Young said. "We know how terrifying it is, the ordeals that they're going through."
Williams, who has requested to return to Iraq, said there are many heroes in the unit.
"It was a pretty nasty firefight," he said. "And quite frankly, I'm surprised that we all came home."
Navy SEAL Awarded Navy Cross for actions in Afghanistan
San Diego Union Tribune | November 1st, 2003 | Otto Kreisher ~ FR Thread
WASHINGTON A Navy SEAL assigned to the Special Warfare Center in Coronado received the Navy Cross, the nation's second-highest award, this week for heroism during a rescue mission in Afghanistan.
Chief Petty Officer Stephen Bass also was one of three special-operations personnel among six service members honored by a prominent national-security support group, underscoring the unprecedented role special-operations forces played in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.
Bass was cited for "extraordinary heroism" during combat operations in northern Afghanistan as part of a U.S. and British special-operations mission to rescue two missing Americans. During the operation, he was "continuously engaged" by small-arms, mortar and rocket-propelled-grenade fire and had to walk through a minefield to reach the Americans, according to a citation honoring Bass.
The award statement said Bass advanced nearly one-quarter of a mile "under constant enemy fire" in an attempt to find one of the Americans. When he ran low on ammunition, the SEAL used weapons from dead enemy forces to continue his mission, which resulted in the recovery of the American.
The Navy Cross is second only to the Medal of Honor for bravery in combat.
Bass was among the first recipients of the "Grateful Nation" award from the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
Hail to the heroes. Angels fly cover for them all.
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