Heroes 2006: ‘There was no way we were running’
Shot to head didn’t slow leader of Special Ops unit
By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 14, 2006
Master Sgt. Suran Sar had to reassess his battle plan after being shot in the head.
“I knew the enemy was in the bunker, but I didn’t want to use a grenade because we didn’t know what was in there,” said the 39-year-old soldier. “But as I looked around the corner, he fired at me and hit my helmet. It broke my chin strap, hit the screw holding that together.
“I fell back, and I told my guy to get a grenade in there.”
Sar said the bullet felt like a hammer hit his head, but he suffered no long-term effects. “The enemy” wasn’t as lucky, as Sar and his team moved from structure to structure eliminating them, now more careful about sticking their heads out as targets.
Even before that Spring 2005 encounter in Paktika, Afghanistan, Sar and his team had already had several close calls. They came under fire as soon as their Blackhawks started to land, and Sar had to rush unprotected at the enemy to help team members who were pinned down.
Blocking a bullet with his head on top of that convinced Army officials to hand him the Silver Star for his heroism and selflessness that day. But Sar deflects that praise, saying all of the hardware he has earned is a tribute to the men with whom he serves.
“This is a group of great Americans, very patriotic, who are serving their country,” he said. “This team did exceptional work, and the enemy paid dearly.”
He calls the Army “his home,” and considering his family history, its no empty sentiment.
As a boy in Cambodia, he grew up during the reign of the Khmer Rouge and suffered through his father’s imprisonment and the execution of his older brother. His mother and two other brothers died from starvation. Sar said when he arrived in the United States in 1981, he had no family and no money.
He joined the Army in 1986, planning to spend a few years to earn money for college, but said his commanders quickly became his close friends and convinced him to stay in. They pushed him toward the special forces, and he had conducted operations in Africa, Kosovo and Afghanistan before last spring’s second tour in Asia.
The March 5, 2005, raid where he was shot was the first major firefight for his new team and, despite his headache, he called the mission a success. The group rounded up several small caches of weapons and cleared out a mountainside controlled by enemy forces, the first of a number of strongholds they attacked that spring.
In fact, Sar was awarded a Bronze Star with V for actions just a few weeks later, in a similar firefight where his team found themselves several hundred feet below enemy fighters on a hillside.
Sar said he had been attempting to lure the shooters down from their point when crossfire caught the team off guard. Despite the strategic disadvantage, he said the team kept calm and stuck to its training.
“If we had tried to retreat, we would have all been dead,” he said. “So I gave the order to charge the hill.”
He led the assault. The U.S. special forces took the hill without any casualties; Sar said after his men killed two of theirs, the rest turned and fled.
“I knew my guys were better soldiers than them,” he said. “There was no way we were running.”
During their campaign in Paktika, the 13-man team did lose one soldier. Sar said the fallen man is the true hero who deserves recognition, not him.
“I told his family they didn’t lose a son, they gained 12 others,” he said. “We’re a family now. This team earned this valor, not just me. I told them if they need anything, we’ll be there for them.”
Unit: Operational Detachment Alpha 732, 7th Special Forces Group
Medals: Silver Star, Bronze Star with combat V, Purple Heart
Earned: March-April 2005 in Paktika, Afghanistan