Medal of Honor recipient who saved his teammates' lives faces a new battle: cancer

Then-Staff Sgt. Ronald J. Shurer II ran through gunfire to help the wounded.

October 1, 2018, 5:14 PM

President Trump awarded the Medal of Honor Monday to Ronald J. Shurer, an Army medic credited with saving the lives of his teammates during a 2008 battle in Afghanistan.

Now, Shurer faces another battle: Trump said during the ceremony that Shurer has been battling lung cancer for the past year and a half.

“He’s braved, he’s battled, he’s worked, he’s done everything he can,” President Trump said. “He’s been fighting it every single day with courage, with strength, and he’s a warrior.”

President Donald Trump claps after presenting the Congressional Medal of Honor to former Army Staff Sgt. Ronald J. Shurer II for actions in Afghanistan, in the East Room of the White House, Oct. 1, 2018, in Washington.
Evan Vucci/AP

Amid his fight with cancer, Shurer continues to serve his country, as part of the United States Secret Service Counter Assault Team, which protects the president from possible attacks.

“Today is a truly special day for us here in the White House, because Ron works right here alongside us,” Trump said.

He described calling Shurer and his wife Miranda into the Oval Office to inform them Ron would be receiving the nation’s highest military honor. “It was a moment I will never forget,” Trump said.

Staff Sgt. Ronald J. Shurer conducting a mission in Afghanistan, circa 2006.
U.S. Army

Shurer was awarded the medal for his actions during the Battle of Shok Valley. In the early morning hours on April 6, 2008, Shurer was one of the last U.S. Special Forces soldiers to exit a Chinook helicopter and land in the Shok Valley of eastern Afghanistan. There was a moment of quiet as the soldiers began to scale a steep hill – when suddenly everything around Shurer exploded.

According to a U.S. Army narrative of what happened next, Shurer’s unit took heavy fire, including rocket-propelled grenades, small-arms and machine-gun fire. The forward assault team became pinned down and sustained multiple injuries. That’s when Shurer sprang into action. Disregarding his own safety, Shurer sprinted through the fire to reach the forward team and treat the wounded.

Shurer’s heroic actions, moving through heavy gunfire multiple times to provide aid to the wounded, saved the lives of all the U.S. soldiers injured in the battle. Shurer is the 11th U.S. Army soldier to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan and the 15th overall from that war.

Staff Sgt. Ronald J. Shurer conducting a mission in Afghanistan, circa 2006.
U.S. Army

Though the White House and Department of Defense have recognized Shurer’s heroism, he still gives all credit to his fellow teammates.

"I truly want to dedicate this to the men ... who served with me out there. Without them, this medal wouldn’t have been possible, it’s truly a team effort," Shurer told the press after the ceremony.

A legacy of service

Shurer grew up no stranger to military service. His grandfather was a World War II veteran. His parents were both airmen, and he spent the first few years of his life moving around the country until his family was stationed at McChord Air Force Base in Washington state, where Shurer went to high school.

Shurer attended Washington State University and was in the middle of a graduate program when the events of September 11, 2001, inspired him to join the Army in 2002.

Two years later, Shurer began the process to become a Green Beret. He deployed twice to Afghanistan before being honorably discharged in 2009.

Ronald J. Shurer II with his sons Cameron and Tyler, and wife Miranda, London, England, Aug. 2018.
U.S. Army

“Unlike anything we’d ever faced before”

During that second deployment to Afghanistan, Shurer was part of Operational Detachment Alpha from the 3rd Special Forces group paired with several dozen Afghan commandos, sent to kill or capture terrorist leaders of the militant group Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin in Shok Valley.

As militants rained fire down on Shurer’s unit, he heard someone shouting his name. Shurer ran to then-Staff Sgt. Ryan Wallen, a friend who had a shrapnel injury in his neck.

The battle raged on. “We don't go out on a mission where we don't expect to meet some resistance, but this was unlike anything we'd ever faced before,” Shurer said.

In order to reach the pinned down forward team, Shurer fought his way across several hundred meters, killing multiple militants along the way. When he reached the unit, he treated four critically wounded U.S. soldiers and 10 Afghan soldiers.

At one point, a bullet went through one soldier’s arm and struck Shurer’s helmet. “It felt like I’d been hit in the head with a baseball bat,” Shurer said.

“But Ron was not done yet. He charged back to the mountain, all the way up, and rejoined the fight. Not a single American died in that brutal battle, thanks in great measure to Ron’s heroic actions,” Trump said.

Shurer provided aid and helped suppress the enemy fire for five and a half hours. Eventually, Shurer devised a plan to use some nylon webbing to lower the wounded soldiers who could not walk down a near-vertical 60-foot cliff to evacuate them. He shielded the casualties with his own body.

“We used tubular nylon webbing to kind of wrap it around the guy's shoulders and lower them down to the next group. We did it as carefully as we could, to not cause further injury. And then, we just kind of repeated that process down the hill,” Shurer described.

Staff Sgt. Ronald J. Shurer II, right, and an interpreter, conducting fast rope training in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, March 2008.
U.S. Army

Thanks to Shurer’s actions, all the U.S. soldiers made it out of the battle alive. Two Afghan commandos were killed, including the team’s interpreter, Edris Khan. Shurer’s younger son’s middle name is Edris, in honor of the fallen interpreter.