'There was no way to get to them without putting yourself in harm's way'

From the roof, the scouts heard the calls of one of the wounded soldiers.

“I’m right here! I’m right here!”

“Here” being mere meters from a mosque where a squad of insurgents had set up beside windows in the dark with machine guns and hand grenades, easily targeting anyone who came near.

The area of Paktika province was dense with many qalats and few pathways. The scouts had tried to blast through a wall to make their own back alley route to their three wounded comrades, but it didn’t work. Now on the roof of an adjacent building, the bird’s-eye view through their night vision goggles made it clear.

The only way to reach the fallen was straight through the kill zone.

“We had to go directly in front of the mosque,” Spc. David Stone said. “There was no way to get to them without putting yourself in harm’s way.”

For their actions on April 22, 2011, Stone, Spc. Jacob Wilder and Staff Sgt. Al Garcia, 101st Division soldiers with the scout platoon of 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, each earned the Silver Star.

"It was pretty much a hand grenade match."
- Staff Sgt. Al Garcia

The scouts had been two hours into a raid on a weapons cache, when the soldiers keeping watch to the west came under intense fire. Two Americans and an Afghan were severely wounded. Racing over, the scouts and others set up a casualty collection point in a nearby building, and then tried to figure out how to retrieve the wounded, who were laying between the American’s position and the mosque.

As Garcia came down the ladder from the roof and prepared to lead Stone and Wilder through 40 exposed meters of enemy fire to rescue the three soldiers, he thought, “I guess I’m getting hit.”

Suppressive friendly fire whizzed above their heads and dirt sprayed their faces from the enemy bullets hitting the ground around them as they ran, low and fast.

“That’s the closest I ever been to seeing enemy muzzle flashes,” Stone said.

Garcia reached the soldier who had been calling to them when they were on the roof. He was shot in the side and the leg. Stone went for the Afghan National Army soldier who was shot through both legs.

With Wilder providing cover fire, Stone and Garcia carried the injured soldiers back to safety.

But another soldier was still out there.

Sgt. John Castro lay motionless up against the wall only two meters from the mosque.

The three scouts ran back through the kill zone to recover him, and at that point “it was pretty much a hand grenade match,” Garcia said.

Wilder, who is now a sergeant, picked up Castro and dragged him to safety despite being wounded by a grenade explosion as he ran.

Castro died, but the other American soldier and the Afghan National Army soldier survived.

Garcia, now a sergeant first class, said that of his three deployments, “that was the craziest fight I’d ever been in.”

Twitter: @MegMcCloskey

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Stars and Stripes - Heroes 2012