FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — A group of soldiers honored for their valor during an ambush in Afghanistan in 2012 say they did what any other soldier would have done to help a wounded colleague.
Seven civil affairs soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg were honored Thursday during the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion Valorous Awards Ceremony at the JFK Memorial Auditorium. The men were serving with Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan.
Staff Sgt. Michael P. Pate, a former paramedic, received a Silver Star Medal, the military's third-highest award for valor, during the ceremony.
Pate, 30, of Charleston, S.C., is a member of Civil Affairs Team 611, A Company. Pate was humbled by the recognition. He said the team did what they were trained to do.
"I am humbled because of the sheer number of people who have received these awards," Pate said. "The company that we keep is pretty profound. I'm proud to represent my organization and the guys who could not be here that should have been recognized. Definitely mixed emotions about the entire thing."
According to a citation for his award, Pate was part of a Nov. 1, 2012, civil reconnaissance patrol when his unit was ambushed east of the village of Sardar Kala, Afghanistan.
With only ankle-high irrigation berms for cover, Pate found himself fewer than 200 yards away from two fortified heavy machine gun positions and at least six other enemy shooters hiding in a dense orchard.
With one of his teammates critically wounded in the ambush, Pate risked his life to save the soldier by running more than 50 yards toward the enemy.
Pate and Capt. Jacob Allen dragged the wounded soldier behind a berm, and Pate performed surgery for more than 10 minutes while returning fire to the enemy position.
He then "remained exposed while hundreds of enemy bullets impacted all around" as he coordinated air support and a medical evacuation.
For his role, Allen, 32, of Williamsburg, Va., earned the Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device. The leader of Team 611, Allen also doubled back to save the wounded soldier and helped Pate render aid in the open field.
Allen fired the wounded soldier's heavy weapon until it jammed, according to the citation for his award, then began firing with his own rifle, remaining exposed until he could direct other soldiers to the location of the enemy.
"I don't think anything I did would have been different than anything the guys around me would have done," he said.
Pate witnessed several courageous acts by other soldiers who have not been recognized, he said.
"I think everybody we were with, as soon as bullets started kicking off, ran to the fight because you never know when someone will need your help," Pate said.
Two other soldiers from Team 611 were awarded for valor for the same patrol.
Sgt. 1st Class Kevin L. Hargrove, 31, of Mount Holly, N.J., and Sgt. 1st Class Kevin W. Oakes, 36, of Bad Hersfeld, Germany, received an Army Commendation Medal with Valor Device.
According to medal citations, Hargrove and Oaks drew fire away from their injured teammate during the ambush.
Hargrove led soldiers through stream beds while under fire to outflank the enemy and send them fleeing from their fortified positions.
His soldiers were able to seize hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
The three other soldiers honored were Staff Sgt. Philip A. Aubrey, Sgt. 1st Class Donovan S. Johnson and 1st Sgt. Jamie T. Mullinax.
Aubrey, 32, of Santa Fe, N.M., received the Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device. According to a citation, Aubrey was the medic on a patrol out of a remote Afghan base on Nov. 5, 2012.
When his unit came under attack, Aubrey maneuvered from the back of the patrol to treat a soldier from a partner force who was injured, sprinting 50 feet through incoming fire to treat the wounded soldier while completely exposed.
Mullinax and Johnson, also members of Team 611, received the Army Commendation Medal with Valor Device for actions during separate patrols, according to their citations.
Johnson, 28, of Crossnore, was part of an April 26, 2012, group that came under attack during a village stability operation in an enemy-dominated village.
During the attack, Johnson was trapped with four other soldiers in a narrow pathway flanked by mud walls.
Isolated from the rest of the patrol, Johnson maneuvered through the exposed alley, jumping over walls to spot enemy fighting positions to relay to his commander.
"He selflessly exposed himself to the enemy at least a half dozen times, as rounds snapped overhead and impacted the walls around him," according to the award citation.
Mullinax, 43, of Catawba County, was on a different village stability operation Sept. 27, 2012, when his patrol came under attack from a "highly organized enemy."
Mullinax bounded across open terrain to a defensive fighting position, then called out the direction and location of enemy fighters.
Then, with two other soldiers, Mullinax sprinted to another post while avoiding bullets and an incoming rocket-propelled grenade, according to the award citation. Mullinax again engaged the enemy while relaying information to his commander during the 30-minute firefight.
Capt. Jacob Allen said the men's action is "representative of what happens regularly in our community."
"We were recognized, but there are a lot of brave men and women who do this job every day," he said.
Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Hargrove said the men never second-guessed what they needed to do to save the wounded soldier.
"We train together before we leave. You are together pretty much 24/7 when you are deployed," he said. "Your teammates become part of your family.
"If you know your teammate is out there, that instinct just kicks in to help them — and make sure that they make it home to their families."
Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, commanding general of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, presented the soldiers with medals and a certificate.
The seven men faced the ultimate test of a soldier — confronting an enemy of the country, he said.
Cleveland said what was a described as a normal reconnaissance patrol become more than routine.
"What is routine for our special operators perhaps is extraordinary for others," he said. "... Your actions and the actions of your comrades amazed and inspired those of us who came before you."