Ten Army Green Berets received the Silver Star today for bravery during an intense firefight with insurgents deep in eastern Afghanistan last April that left nearly 200 militants dead.
It is the largest number of these elite soldiers to receive the nation's third-highest medal for valor for a single event since the Vietnam War.
The awards were given out at a ceremony at the unit's home base of Fort Bragg, N.C.
On April 6, 10 members of Operational Detachment Alpha from the 3rd Special Forces Group and several dozen Afghan commandos conducted an assault on a well-defended insurgent mountain hideout in the Shok Valley of eastern Afghanistan. Their mission was to kill or capture multiple terrorist leaders belonging to the militant group Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HIG).
Shortly after arriving by helicopter, they began taking fire from insurgents who had taken up positions to defend their village, located on a steep hillside above the Americans' landing zone.
Taking heavy fire, the main assault team attempted to scale the mountain's rock faces to reach their targets. Eventually, all of the U.S. and Afghan forces were pinned down by the enemy fire raining down on them.
On audio recordings of the battle that day, team leader Capt. Kyle Walton can be heard saying, "[We're] starting to take machine gun fire, we've got to get additional aircraft in here to help us out."
To prevent their positions from being overrun, Walton and his soldiers called for close air strikes from Apache helicopters and F-15 fighter jets. Some of the bombs landed dangerously close to the U.S. troops.
The Green Berets took huge risks to rescue their wounded, repeatedly lowering them down a cliff while under almost constant fire.
Medevac pilots also undertook several daring rescues, including flying under power lines and landing in the middle of a river to get out the wounded. They too sustained heavy fire. On an audio recording one of the helicopter pilots says, "I'm hit, I think I'm hit... I think we just got hit, we're going south!"
Throughout the battle the troops on the ground continued to take out enemy positions by calling in airstrikes.
Against all odds, the outnumbered force was able to take out between 150 to 200 militants. Two Afghan commandos died during the battle. All the American soldiers made it out alive.
The 10 soldiers receiving the award today are Capt. Kyle M. Walton, Master Sgt. Scott Ford, Staff Sgt. Seth E. Howard, Staff Sgt. Ronald J. Shurer, Staff Sgt. John W. WaldingStaff Sgt. Luis Morales, Staff Sgt. Dillon Behr, Staff Sgt. David J. Sanders, Staff Sgt. Matthew O. Williams and Spc. Michael D. Carter.