NC Special Forces soldiers who risked their lives to get valor awards
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer | Published: March 27, 2014
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — They risked their lives in Afghanistan to save their fellow soldiers, and now they'll be honored among their peers on Fort Bragg.
Soldiers of the 3rd Special Forces Group will receive dozens of medals during an award ceremony Thursday.
Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland, commanding general of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, will present eight Silver Stars, 28 Bronze Stars for valor, 36 Army Commendation Medals for valor and 27 Purple Hearts to soldiers in the 11 a.m. ceremony, according to officials. The Silver Star is the military's third highest award for valor in combat.
The eight soldiers receiving Silver Stars are Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Brown, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jason W. Myers, Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan B. Drew, Sgt. 1st Class David A. Blish, Warrant Officer Robert A. Hinsley, Staff Sgt. Nicholas C. Lavery, Staff Sgt. Robert B. Ashwell and Master Sgt. Charles P. Ritter.
Myers and Ritter also will receive Purple Heart medals for being injured in Afghanistan, officials said. Brown will also receive an Army Commendation Medal for valor and two Purple Hearts and Lavery will also receive a Bronze Star for valor and three Purple Hearts.
The Silver Stars will recognize seven different actions spread from November 2011 to May 2013, according to award documents.
The soldiers risked their own safety to help injured Afghan civilians and stepping into enemy fire to better direct air support and communicate with superiors.
In one case, a soldier is being honored for catching a grenade in his hands and throwing it away before jumping on an Afghan soldier to shield him from the blast.
In another, a soldier physically pushed another away from danger and then stepped in front of him to shield him from bullets.
The following are brief accounts of their actions, based on award citations and accompanying narratives.
Myers and Brown are being honored for the actions during a rescue attempt near Bagram Airfield on Nov. 10, 2011, when insurgents assaulted the Chamkani District Center, seizing control of the complex, killing three members of the Afghan National Police and taking hostages.
Myers assembled a five-man force comprised of two Green Berets and three Afghans to move into the district center.
Inside, the team was met by insurgents with automatic weapons.
Myers rushed into a room and immediately engaged and killed an insurgent who was throwing grenades, being wounded in the hands, arms, buttocks and legs in the process.
Throughout the night, he entered the complex three times to fight barricaded suicide bombers. Once hostages were rescued, he led efforts to clear booby-trapped rooms.
Brown rushed to the complex through a nearby bazaar and then knocked down a door to enter the center.
With insurgents firing on them from the second floor of the building, Brown led the efforts to clear adjoining rooms.
Entering one room, an insurgent immediately threw a grenade over Brown's shoulder.
Brown shouted "grenade!" and caught the explosive with his hands before hurling it to an unoccupied corner of the building.
He then ran to grab an Afghan Uniformed Police officer, shielding him from the blast with his body.
Injured and in shock from the blast, Brown continued to assist in the clearing of the complex and rescue of the hostages.
Drew will be honored for actions during a combat operation near Bagram in April 2012.
He led an element of Afghan soldiers to the Upper Kamdesh village to talk with district leadership.
Following the meeting, the forces came under attack, and Drew positioned himself in harm's way to better direct the response to the attack.
Drew "continuously placed himself in the kill zone to protect his partner force and local civilians," according to a narrative.
After an Afghan woman was shot in the chest, Drew rushed into incoming fire to administer first aid and give support until a helicopter could evacuate her.
Throughout the 15-hour attack, he repeatedly exposed himself to "withering machine gun and sniper fire" to protect civilians, Afghan soldiers and government officials.
Blish is being honored for actions during a combat mission in October 2012 in Wardak province, where he volunteered for multiple dangerous tactics, exposing himself to enemy fire to maintain communications and direct air support.
He then volunteered to move into a known enemy safe haven to assess the effectiveness of the air support, again coming under fire from insurgents.
Blish insisted on pushing forward, despite having no cover, and was able to recover enemy weapons and kill five more insurgents.
Returning to his team, Blish and his men were again ambushed, and Blish called in a medical evacuation to help a wounded team sergeant.
Hinsley is being honored for his actions during a partnered patrol in Nangarhar province, an area that was a reported enemy stronghold where weapons, narcotics and parts for roadside bombs were sold.
Hinsley led a 15-soldier element that was ambushed in a local bazaar.
During the two-hour fight, he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to allow others the chance to reach cover. He then risked himself again to cross an open area to retrieve a grenade launcher and other weapons that proved vital to the soldiers' defense.
Lavery is being honored for actions in March 2013 in Wardak province. While on a joint patrol with Afghan Special Forces, Lavery and others were attacked by an Afghan National Police officer in a truck mounted machine gun.
With roughly two dozen friendly fighters injured in the initial attack, Lavery was able to save one soldier by pushing him out of the way of enemy fire while stepping in front of him to take the brunt of the bullets.
Lavery was immediately wounded in his leg, with his femur shattered and femoral arter severed. Despite his wounds, Lavery continued to protect soldiers, yelling directions while covering others.
Ashwell is being honored for actions in April 2013 in Kunar province. Ashwell and other special operations troops and Afghan fighters were sent to rescue friendly forces surrounded in a compound by the Taliban.
Ashwell and another soldier were able to take control of a nearby compound to establish a position to mount the rescue efforts. He then rushed through a hail of gunfire to rescue a fallen soldier and carry him back to safety.
Ritter is being honored for actions in May 2013 in Kapisa province. He was serving as a mentor to Afghan soldiers when they came under attack one morning from enemies within 50 meters of their position.
After several hours of fighting, Ritter led a small force of Afghan and U.S. soldiers to attempt to ambush the insurgents and was able to cut off and kill enemy fighters moving in for an attack.
With an Afghan commando wounded, Ritter disregarded his own safety to move down an alleyway to rescue the commando.
He was wounded three times during the rescue, including a wound to his back, but was able to move the commando to safety.