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Vicenza NCO receives Silver Star for saving lives in Afghan ambush

Maj. Gen. William B. Garrett pins the Silver Star on Staff Sgt. Conrad Begaye during a ceremony Tuesday on Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy. Begaye was honored for his actions in a battle near Aranas, Afghanistan, in which five fellow soldiers and a Marine were killed.

KENT HARRIS / S&S

By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 1, 2009

VICENZA, Italy — Staff Sgt. Conrad Begaye knew he and his men were in trouble.

Ambushed near Aranas, Afghanistan, on Nov. 9, 2007, the soldiers were caught in a well-planned crossfire and needed to find cover.

Though he had been shot in the arm, Begaye took a minute to consider his options.

"It was almost like time stood still," he said Tuesday after receiving the Silver Star for his efforts that day. "The only real option I had was over the cliff."

So he started down into a steep ravine, telling his men to follow.

"We were sliding down and the whole time we were still taking accurate fire," he said.

Several soldiers were wounded on the way down and one was killed. But the rest survived to fight on.

Once Begaye and his men found adequate cover, he treated the wounded, called in mortar support and rallied other soldiers who were farther back in the convoy to hold their positions. Mortar fire and reinforcements eventually drove the enemy from the field.

Five soldiers and one Marine died in the battle. Begaye, the ranking soldier after his platoon leader was killed in the initial attack, said he’ll wear his medal in honor of those who didn’t make it.

"I really don’t know how I feel about getting a medal for just doing my job," he said. "So this medal’s not for me, but for the guys who died that day."

Maj. Gen. William B. Garrett, who presented Begaye with the medal, told those gathered on Hoekstra Field that the native of Black Canyon City, Ariz., deserved the recognition.

"Outnumbered, wounded, initially pinned down in an enemy kill zone, he didn’t hesitate to jump forward," Garrett said. "Today, we honor an NCO whose bold action turned the tide of battle and saved the day."

Garrett noted that the ceremony was just a few days before July 4, a day when Americans celebrate Independence Day.

"Freedom isn’t free at all," he said. "Our freedom has been bought by the sacrifices of American soldiers."

Begaye was a member of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment. Twenty-four soldiers from the battalion died during 14 months in Afghanistan. The battle near Aranas was one of the deadliest of the tour.

He’s currently a member of Vicenza’s Warrior Transition Unit, though he has recently re-enlisted and hopes to join the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team’s headquarters before its next deployment.

He’s married to Air Force Staff Sgt. Idellia Beletso, a flight medic stationed at nearby Aviano Air Base. She attended the ceremony along with hundreds of soldiers from his battalion. Several of those who offered him congratulations have also been honored for their actions. To date, soldiers from the battalion have received a Distinguished Service Cross and 25 Silver Stars. Four awards are still pending.


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