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'It is not an option to leave someone out there'

Silver Star ceremony

On the mountaintop, Capt. David Fox was still dazed from the massive roadside bomb that knocked him unconscious.

After the explosion, which killed a French trooper and critically injured an Afghan commander, enemy fire poured in from all directions. Fox, the commander of a Special Forces A-Team from the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, needed help.

“We were essentially surrounded,” he said.

Fox, who was scouting potential checkpoint locations in the remote Tagab district of Kapisa province, faced more than 70 enemy fighters. He needed to get out fast.

Groggy from the blast, the captain managed to get out a radio message to his troops down the mountainside, who heard his garbled words: “urgent … surgical.”

After hearing their commander’s muffled radio call and seeing a plume of black smoke billowing high above on the ridgeline in Kapisa province, Afghanistan, Fox’s men made a desperate climb to reach him.

“You realize that when you think you’re exhausted, you still have a lot more in you. You can take your body to greater limits than you think.”
- Capt. David Fox

But the worst of the fight was still to come.

From the start of the Dec. 17, 2010, mission, the troops from the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group had faced sporadic enemy fire, including rounds fired by hidden snipers. However, as they descended the mountain, the fighting escalated. Fox led a two-man charge down the mountainside. His team sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class McKenna “Frank” Miller, carried the body of the French trooper while Fox provided the security.

During the course of the three-hour fight, Fox repeatedly risked his life, not only to guard his team sergeant, but also to ensure the Frenchman wasn’t left behind.

“Anybody we go on a mission with, everyone is going to come back,” Fox said. “It is not an option to leave someone out there.”

Fox took the lead position, repeatedly exposing himself to enemy fire during the treacherous journey back to the unit’s convoy.

For his heroics on that descent, Fox received the Silver Star, the military’s third-highest medal for valor. Miller also would receive the Silver Star along with a third soldier from the unit, Staff Sgt. Matthew Gassman, who carried the injured Afghan to safety.

“Throughout their perilous descent Captain Fox again and again placed himself between his Team Sergeant and the threat of the voluminous enemy fires,” the valor citation read.

As the men neared the bottom of the mountain, bullets whizzed by them. The physical demands of the fight also were taking a toll.

Miller, who had expended energy scaling the mountain, now had strained both hamstrings and was struggling to keep his balance with the 200-pound Frenchman on his back. Noticing his comrade was lagging behind and taking heavy fire, Fox charged out into the open to draw enemy fire way from Miller.

Meanwhile, insurgents continued to fire round after round. The key to making it out of such peril alive is to keep a clear head and not succumb to the chaos of battle, said Fox.

“You’re just going on instinct and detaching yourself from what’s going on around you,” Fox said.

As the men pressed forward, Miller was again struggling to reload the dead man on his shoulders. As Fox looked back, he noticed rounds were hitting the dead soldier.

Fox raced back to Miller, providing cover fire but again exposing himself to enemy rounds. After helping reload the body on Miller’s shoulders, Fox pushed his way across 100 meters of open terrain to reach a group of Afghan soldiers. The Afghans were reluctant to step forward and Fox found himself alone, taking cover behind a tree, according to the citation.

Looking back across the open terrain, Fox saw that Miller had fallen while trying to cross a knee-deep stream. Enemy fire continued to pour down, striking within inches of Miller, according to an Army account of the battle. Fox fired at the insurgents, drawing the enemy fire in his direction.

By now, another soldier arrived on the scene and helped Fox escort Miller back to the safety of the tree, the only cover available. But the corpse of the French soldier still lay in the distance.

“Fox then ran directly through enemy fire and ordered assistance from his Afghan counterparts,” the medal citation read.

Apparently inspired by Fox’s repeated ventures into the line of fire, the Afghans followed Fox into the open terrain to retrieve the fallen soldier. The team then made its way to the vehicles and a final escape.

The battle pushed the men to their physical limits, Fox said.

“You realize that when you think you’re exhausted, you still have a lot more in you,” Fox said. “You can take your body to greater limits than you think.”

During a ceremony at his unit’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, in late 2011, Fox and the other Silver Star recipients from his team were honored for their courage on the battlefield.

“These are not obscure actions and dusty stories in a book somewhere,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Repass, commander of Special Operations Command Europe. “These are real-life friends, neighbors, teammates, people that we know.”

vandiverj@estripes.osd.mil

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