2005: The Year In Military Heroism
Between seeing this post of Sondrak’s on Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith and all the brouhaha over various nonsensical year end lists, I decided to do a tribute post to America’s War Heroes of 2005. In my view, they cannot get and certainly haven’t gotten enough attention via the MSM.
Via CENTCOM links below you can access the data for all awards given month by month. I’ve read them all and highlighted one or more honorees for each month of the year, including some of the more compelling accounts of their noble service to America. Sadly, some awards were given posthumously.
Jan – 05: Among several awards, perhaps the most notable was a Silver Star awarded to 1st Lt. Neil Prakash, a tank platoon leader from the 2nd Battalion, 63rd Armor of V Corps’ 1st Infantry Division, in action at Ba’qubah.
During the action, Prakash spent several hours under fire as the lead vehicle, taking the brunt of the attack. When enemy fire disabled his tank’s turret, he maneuvered the entire vehicle in order to engage the enemy with the main weapon system and .50-caliber machine gun.
“Looking out of the hatch, I’m just spraying guys and they’re just falling,” said Prakash. “They would just drop – no blood, no nothing. We just keep rolling, getting shot at from everywhere.”
By battle’s end, Prakash’s platoon was responsible for 25 confirmed destroyed enemy and an estimated 50 to 60 additional destroyed enemy fighters. Prakash was personally credited with the destruction of eight enemy strong-points, one enemy resupply vehicle, and multiple dismounted enemy fighters.
“He led the way,” said Alpha Company Commander Capt. Paul Fowler.
Feb – 05: Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (NAC) Brad S. Tiefel was awarded the Air Medal (First Strike/Flight Award) for meritorious achievement in aerial flight as a designated Casualty Evacuation Corpsman while assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, during March 2003 combat missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Mar – 05: Staff Sgt. William Thomas Payne of the 1st Cavalry Division received the Silver Star, the United States third highest award for heroism in combat and the award was presented by his Father, which I recall was in the MSM news. However, I personally can’t recall much coverage of First Army Reserve Spc. Jeremy Church, who went out of his way to volunteer for combat duty in Iraq, who also earned a Silver Star.
“He deserves it. He did some amazing things out there on that day. He helped save a lot of lives that could have been lost without his initiative,” … Two 724th Soldiers, Sgt. Elmer Krause and Pfc. Gregory Goodrich, died when an estimated 150 insurgents attacked the 724th convoy. Spc. Keith “Matt” Maupin of the 724th was captured and remains missing today.
Church was the driver for convoy commander 1st Lt. Matt Brown’s, vehicle, which was the lead in vehicle in an emergency fuel mission to the Baghdad International Airport. Enemy insurgents with the Madr Militia attacked during the mission.
According his medal citation, as soon as Church’s vehicle entered the kill zone, insurgents attacked from built up areas with rocket-propelled grenades, improvised explosive devices, machine guns and assault rifles. Church drove aggressively to avoid detonating IEDs and hitting objects placed by the enemy to slow the convoy. Within minutes of entering the kill zone, Brown was shot twice in the head by an enemy sniper.
Church said that before the convoy set out, Brown was adamant that he learn the convoy commander’s job because there might be a day when he’d have to take over the position. April 9th became that day.
Church immediately grabbed Brown’s first aid pouch and instructed him to apply the bandage while he continued to drive. An IED exploded and blew out the vehicle’s front tire. Church continued to engage the enemy with his M-16A2 while he navigated his vehicle on three tires.
Church led the convoy for four miles into a secured perimeter established by a cavalry company from 2-12 Cavalry. He then carried Brown out of the vehicle for immediate medical attention and medical evacuation, according to the citation.
“I knew I had the entire convoy behind me and I knew they were following me. They needed me to get them out of there,” Church said.
Church then rallied Soldiers in the secured area and went back to the fire fight he had just left. The Soldiers launched an immediate recovery mission to aid other Soldiers and civilians pinned down by enemy fire.
Church identified the assistant commander’s vehicle among the wreckage of burning fuel trucks and found two wounded Soldiers and four civilian truck drivers. He identified the most severely wounded, and administered first aid to a Soldier that had a sucking chest wound. He applied a bandage and carried the Soldier over to one of the recovery vehicles while exposing him self to enemy fire, according to the citation.
According to the citation, once the wounded were loaded there wasn’t enough room for Church to get in. Church instructed the cavalry troopers to take the wounded back to the casualty collection point and he would wait for their return. Ten minutes later the recovery team returned to remove Church battle area.
Apr – 05: As linked above, Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for helping to save the lives of 100 U.S. troops. Additionally of note, Sgt. Benny Alicea was awarded the Silver Star for his action during Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah.
Injured by the flying fragments of an enemy grenade, a Soldier collected himself and noticed his buddies were down. He rushed to protect them, firing round after round at his attackers as bullets punched into the walls around him. If he and his friends were to live, there was nothing he could do but continue to fight alone and wait for reinforcements.
This was the situation Sgt. Benny Alicea, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry, 1st Cavalry Division – then Spc. Alicea – faced during a battle in Fallujah in November 2004. Alicea’s actions that day earned him the Silver Star, just one of the many awards he earned during his year in Iraq. He also received two Purple Hearts and two Army Commendation Medals – one with a V device for valor in another battle.
Entangled by an ambush of more than 50 insurgents, and showered by dozens of rocket-propelled grenades, Sgt. Willie L. Copeland III didn’t automatically take cover – he took charge.
Sorely outnumbered by insurgents, he led a fierce counterattack while safeguarding his Marines from heavy enemy fire, according to battlefield accounts.
For his heroic actions and bold leadership in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Copeland, team leader for 2nd Platoon, Company B, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, received the nation’s second-highest combat award – the Navy Cross – April 21 at the Camp Del Mar Boat Basin.
June – 05: None currently listed.
Aaron Austin died in Falluja repelling an attack. His Silver Star 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 Falluja, 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.
For those who knew Austin, his action was no surprise. Today, in a simple ceremony at the Texas Panhandle War Memorial in Amarillo, Austin’s parents will receive the Silver Star, awarded posthumously to their son.
Sgt. Maj. William Skiles, who was with Austin that brutal morning in Falluja, will present the award — the nation’s third-highest medal for bravery in combat.
"All the Marines stepped up, and Aaron led the way," Skiles said.
Austin’s mother, De’on Miller, said she understood her son’s actions during the firefight on April 26, 2004. Loyalty, she said, was at the core of her son’s personality.
"He loved the people he was with," Miller said from her home in Lovington, N.M. "That was Aaron: When he was loyal, he put his entire heart into it. He wouldn’t quit fighting."
Austin’s Silver Star is the third for a Marine from the "Two-One," one of the units that led last year’s assault on the insurgent stronghold.
Lt. Ben Wagner remembered the prayer session the night before Austin was killed. "Aaron was praying for the safety of the other Marines," he said. "That was his personality, concerned with others, not himself."
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.
Austin joined the Marines after graduating from high school, which had been marked by his love of parties and football (although he quit the team in solidarity when his cousin had a run-in with the coach).
His parents supported the decision, deciding the Marines would give him discipline and direction.
When he would call home from Iraq — where he was also part of the 2003 assault that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime — Austin avoided talking about combat and the chances of death. But his voice had a tone of foreboding, his parents said.
"All I ever wanted was for Aaron to come back. That’s all I wanted," said his father, Doug, who owns a small grocery store.
Aaron Austin was buried near his father’s Amarillo home.
Among fellow Marines, Austin was known for his laugh and his confidence.
"There’s no place I’d rather be than here with my Marines," Austin told the Los Angeles Times two days before the firefight. "I’ll always remember this time."
Lt. Gen. James Mattis, who commanded the 1st Marine Division during the spring 2004 offensive, said this week that Austin "represented the very best of us."
"They don’t write the foreign policy," Mattis said of Austin and other Marines, "but they faithfully serve our country, even at their peril."
Aug – 05: U.S. Army Col. James H. Coffman Jr. was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross – second only to the Medal of Honor in military decorations – for his role in leading Iraqi Special Police Commandos through a five-and-a-half hour battle against terrorists trying to overrun an Iraqi police station.
As the QRF approached the station, it was besieged with rocket-propelled grenades, small arms fire and mortar rounds. Coffman and the Commandos fought the terrorists for four hours before help arrived. When the initial firefight killed or seriously wounded all but one of the Commando officers, Coffman rallied the remaining Commandos while trying to radio for assistance, according to his award citation.
“Under heavy fire, he moved from Commando to Commando, looking each in the eye and using hand and arm signals to demonstrate what he wanted done,” the citation said.
When an enemy round shattered his left shooting hand, damaging his M4 rifle in the process, Coffman bandaged it and continued fighting with AK-47 rifles he collected from Commando casualties until each ran out of ammunition. He also passed out ammunition to the uninjured Commandos with the help of the remaining Commando officer; when all that remained were loose rounds, Coffman held magazines between his legs and loaded the rounds with his good hand.
When a second Commando unit arrived four hours after the fight began, Coffman led them to his position and continued to fight, refusing to be evacuated for treatment until the battle was over. Not long after the Commando reinforcements arrived, air support and a Stryker Brigade Quick Reaction Force were on hand to assist to assist in the battle. … Twenty-five terrorists were killed and dozens injured.
Sept – 05: Along with Sgt. Eric G. Sullivan, a combat medic with the 550th Area Support Medical Company, Brigade Troops Battalion (BTB), DSB, who was awarded a Bronze Star Medal with “V” device, the following three awards were given.
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.
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.
Oct – 05: 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.
Villalobos and Lt. Col. Terrence Crowe maneuvered down an alleyway where five insurgents ambushed the squad. … 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.
Master Sgt. Robert Collins and Sgt. 1st Class Danny Hall, both of 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, were recognized with the military’s third highest valor award for their gallantry under enemy fire for their actions in Iraq this year.
… Collins and Hall risked their lives when 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.
Nov – 05: More than 1.5 million Army aviation flight hours have been flown in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and only 22 Distinguished Flying Crosses have been awarded. The Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded to four paratroopers from the 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division Nov. 8 for valorous conduct in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
First Lt. Michael Hultquist and Chief Warrant Officers James Cornell, James Williamson and Charles Folk, all pilots from Troop D, were recognized in a ceremony at the 82nd Aviation Brigade headquarters.
On March 22, Hultquist, Cornell, Williamson and Folk were almost finished with a routine aerial-reconnaissance mission near Lake Tar Tar in northwestern Iraq when they heard a scratchy mayday call over their radio traffic, Hultquist said.
The call came from a group of U.S. and Iraqi troops who were ambushed during their patrol.
Though the pilots only had about 10 minutes of fuel left in their Kiowas, and they were too far out of range to maintain radio contact with their headquarters, they decided to fly to the aid of the ambushed troops, Hultquist said.
also – Army Chief Warrant Officer Three Christopher Palumbo from A Co., 3rd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry.
None of the crew aboard Skillful 31 had any reservations," Palumbo said. "Over 50 bullet holes, shot-up engine, shot-up cabin and cockpit, one crew chief wounded, four blades tore up…we were lucky." Luck may have had something to do with it but Palumbo said, "I think while the fight played out instinct took over and training just kicked in."
Dec – 05: Along with other awards listed at preceding link, Lt. Col. Ed O’Neal’s combat leadership skills following an al-Qaeda terrorist attack on a Khobar, Saudi Arabia, residential compound saved the lives of five people, enabled the rescue of a family trapped in a burning apartment, and resulted in him being awarded the Bronze Star (with Valor).
As Colonel O’Neal slowly opened the door, a terrorist sniper let loose with a machine gun — rounds ripped through his hand, arm, thigh, side and back. Colonel Broome’s left upper arm was shattered
Colonel O’Neal dove to the ground, outside the building, while Colonel Broome escaped back up the stairwell to the third floor.
"I could hear shots, the ricochets and then the distinctive recoil sound of the AK-47," Colonel O’Neal said. "I low-crawled 10 yards along a stone wall until I found an alcove that offered a small amount of cover."
Despite bleeding and being in extreme pain, Colonel O’Neal used his cell phone to relay information about the escape attempt, the possible status of Colonel Broome and their location to the responding Saudi MOI forces.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 David J. Longstaff, manager of the U.S. Army culinary team, has been awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor for rescuing five Soldiers pinned down in an ambush.