When members of 101st Airborne Division prepared for an operation on Nov. 12, 2010, platoon leaders had a stark message: The No. 1 goal on this mission was to bring everybody back.
Army Spc. Shannon Chihuahua, 25, would give his life trying to fulfill that goal.
On that November day — at the height of the U.S. surge in Afghanistan — Chihuahua and other soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, were tasked with working with Afghan troops to clear an area in eastern Afghanistan.
The target was in Watapur Valley in the violent Kunar province, a Taliban stronghold infamous for rugged terrain that allowed insurgents to easily hide and move back and forth across the border with Pakistan.
Operation Bulldog Bite began in the predawn hours with the soldiers being dropped by helicopters onto remote hillsides near the target villages.
“This was in the heart of Taliban country,” Sgt. Kevin Garrison, a member Chihuahua’s unit, recalled in an interview with Army public affairs. “There was nobody up there that wasn’t Taliban.”
Chihuahua, a combat medic, was among troops who had taken up a blocking position to provide security for other members of the company when they came under fire around 10:30 a.m.
Backed up against a steep drop-off to the east, the unit was quickly surrounded on three sides by Taliban insurgents, who poured fire into the cornered soldiers with machine guns, AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades.
“We were taking fire from at least three of our four directions, and there was no place we could go,” Garrison said. “We couldn’t move — if you moved, you got hit.” Several troops were injured right away.
Of 22 platoon members, only seven would remain uninjured by the end of the fighting, said Garrison, who was among those wounded.
“We continued taking fire,” he remembered. “My best friend was wounded. My lieutenant was wounded. Our [radio operator] had been shot in the head, but he was still talking on the radio, doing a hell of a job.”
Leaving the safety of his position, Chihuahua “ran through heavy machine-gun fire to attend to his fellow soldiers’ wounds,” according to the 101st Airborne Division. Army officials credited him with saving the lives of “several” soldiers
As he moved from soldier to soldier, providing aid, Chihuahua was struck by RPG fire and killed.
One of six American soldiers to die during the four-day operation, he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star in February. He left behind his wife, Kristen — who accepted the medal on his behalf — and two children.
“If he wasn’t on mission, his heart and mind was devoted to his family,” Staff Sgt. Eric Allen, Chihuahua’s platoon sergeant, said at a memorial service for the fallen troops in 2010. “He loved his junk food and his wife kept him supplied. But he always shared with us.”
Chihuahua, who often went by “Doc” or “Chewy,” according to Allen, joined the Army in 2008. A native of Thomasville, Ga., he had also received four other medals, including a Purple Heart after being wounded three months before his death.
“What they did up there was nothing short of miraculous,” Garrison said of all the soldiers who fought during the Watapur battle. “They were nothing short of amazing. The men that stayed up there that day deserve every award they’ve got, and they’ve earned their right to pick their place in society. Nobody will ever be able to take away from them what they did.”