Army Reserve Spc. Gregory S. Ruske operates an improvised “washing machine” at Forward Operating Base Morales-Frasier after his unit’s laundry was delayed in December 2007.

Army Reserve Spc. Gregory S. Ruske operates an improvised “washing machine” at Forward Operating Base Morales-Frasier after his unit’s laundry was delayed in December 2007. ()

Sgt. GregRuske

Unit: Attached to the 3rd Battalion, 103rd Armor Regiment, Pennsylvania National Guard

Medal: Silver Star

Earned: April 21, 2008, Afghanya Valley, Afghanistan

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Whether a bullet makes a "crack" or a "zip" depends on how close it is to your head.

Maybe Army Reserve Sgt. Greg Ruske knew that before April 21, 2008, when he found himself in the middle of an ambush in Afghanya Valley, some 15 bumpy minutes’ drive east of Bagram. But he says it with such shocking casualness that you have to wonder where they grow guys like this.

Ruske was awarded the Silver Star for his actions that day.

On April 21, then-Spc. Ruske was on a small "presence patrol," an individual augmentee attached to a Pennsylvania Guard unit, the 3rd Battalion, 103rd Armor Regiment, headquartered out of Lewisburg. There were eight Americans, two Afghan National Police and an interpreter.

Routine stuff — just patrolling a village to make sure Taliban fighters weren’t there intimidating locals.

"And as we were walking by this one guy’s house/compound, we were ambushed from the hills.

"They hit the two ANP officers right off the bat," Ruske says.

He took cover at the corner of the elderly man’s house. He was carrying an M-16 with an M-203 grenade launcher. He started to unload on whatever moved.

Lt. David Jarrett was on the radio, screaming for backup. But the Quick Reaction Force making its way to the scene was also ambushed. There was no air support — chaotic radio chatter meant pilots could not separate enemies from friendlies. It was eight soldiers, two wounded Afghan National Police and an interpreter against about 100 Taliban firing at them from the hills.

The interpreter negotiated entrance into the old man’s house. Ruske, Spc. Eric Seagraves and a man he only remembers as Capt. Monholland climbed a rickety inside ladder to the roof, to see if they could "get a better angle on these guys." The roof had walls, as is common in Afghanistan — there was about seven more feet of stone and plaster sticking up, providing some cover. But not enough.

They began taking fire, and Monholland hurried back down. Seagraves didn’t bother with the ladder.

Ruske starts to laugh as he tells the story.

"I saw Seagraves jump off the roof, with all that gear on. And I remember feeling like — it felt like a rubber band bein’ pulled back and hittin’ me, on my hip."

He checked it, and saw blood on his glove. He grins.

"And I was like, ‘Dammit. They actually managed to hit me.’ "

He got himself down the ladder. Staff Sgt. Sampson put a quick pressure dressing on it, and Ruske went back to work.

One of the Afghan National Police was shot through the forearm and managed to take cover. The other was dropped where he stood, and the squad thought he was dead until someone saw him crawling toward them.

"One of those guys up on that hill must’ve been one of the few who had a decent-zeroed weapon, ’cause he was getting really close," Ruske says. "Within inches of this guy’s head. You could see the dirt kick up, and all the sudden, he’d stop movin’.

"So I was like, ‘OK, we gotta get this guy. This is messed up.’ "

He told his M-249 gunner, Spc. Walter Reed and Sgt. 1st Class David Hopkins to lay down "a nice Z-pattern" of suppressing fire. He and Seagraves were going to go for it.

"And Spc. Seagraves and I, on the count of three, ran out, grabbed the guy behind his arms and dragged him back," Ruske said.

Once they had him in relative safety, they decided to get a better grip to bring the man to their casualty collection point behind the house.

"And when I went to pick up his legs, one stayed normal but, apparently, he was shot in his thigh and it shattered his femur so when I went to pick up his other one, it folded in half the wrong way." Ruske makes a sudden 90-degree angle with his hands. "It just went, ‘blep!’ "

After six hours of battle, the Quick Reaction Force managed to get there and disperse the Taliban fighters. The police were taken by medevac helicopter, and the platoon headed back to the road, where they had left their gun trucks.

A Special Forces medic looked at Ruske’s wound.

"He said, ‘That’s not a grazing wound’ and called the medevac for me, where I got treated at the hospital."

None of the guys were killed that day. Ruske was awarded the Silver Star for his "commitment, selfless service and personal courage."

Soon after he got treatment for what his friends called his "Forrest Gump" wound, the staff asked if he’d told his family what had happened.

"So they let me use the hospital phone," Ruske laughs again.

"I said, ‘Mom, I have some bad news. I’ve been shot, but it was just meat.’

"She of course, became upset, but you know, I’m sittin’ in the hospital, drinkin’ Mountain Dew. It’s all good. It’s all good."

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