Silver Stars in Iraq
There have been more than 170 Silver Stars awarded during Operation Iraqi Freedom. This is a partial list of those honored.
Staff Sgt. Raymond Bittinger, an infantryman from the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment and attached to the 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery.
Bittinger, a 33-year-old Chicago native, earned the medal for valorous actions leading to the defeat of enemy forces and saving the lives of friendly forces on April 9, 2004, in Buhritz and Baqubah.
Lt. Col. Steven Bullimore, Task Force 1-6 commander presided over the ceremony. “As Americans, we love our heroes,” he said. “We wonder in our heart of hearts what it is that makes them. In the example of Staff Sgt. Ray Bittinger, two things stand out. First, he has always been good at what he does. Second is the simple selflessness of a true professional.”
Bittinger said he was humbled by all of the attention and the remarks.
"I consider myself a soldier, not a hero," said Bittinger after the ceremony. "I'm an infantryman. It's my duty; it's my job."
Jeremy Church, 724th Transportation Company.
Pfc. Christopher Fernandez, of Battery A, 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Calvary Division.
Fernandez, age 18, said his family was proud, that they had even told members of his church back home about his award, but he didn’t know if they understood that the Silver Star was a big deal.
“It’s a great honor,” said Fernandez, a Multiple Launch Rocket System crewman. “I never thought it would happen.” Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, 1st Calvary Division commanding general, said Fernandez embodied the Army values of selfless service and courage.
“Pfc. Christopher Fernandez is a hero,” Chiarelli said. “He represents the best of us. He embodies the Army Values and the Warrior Ethos.”
Fernandez was awarded the Silver Star for his actions on the night of May 5, 2004 when his unit came under attack. Fernandez, a Tucson, Ariz. native, was on a patrol through Baghdad’s Saidiyah neighborhood when insurgents ambushed his unit.
An improvised explosive device hit the patrol’s rear vehicle. Immediately following the explosion, the patrol was barraged with small-arms fire. The patrol’s crew-served weapons, an M-240B machine gun and a .50 caliber machine gun, immediately returned fire.
The IED explosion killed two U.S. Soldiers, wounded five others and rendered their vehicle inoperable. Fernandez returned fire with his weapon, an M-249 squad automatic weapon. He reloaded his weapon at least once during the short engagement, said Capt. Thomas Pugsley, Battery A’s commander. "There was a tremendous volume of fire coming at them," Pugsley said.
Staff Sgt. Charles Good of the 5th Special Forces was credited with exposing himself to enemy fire on the Syrian/Iraqi border to assist in getting a critically wounded comrade into a Humvee, then negotiating in Arabic a ride from an Iraqi man for them when the Humvee became crippled by enemy fire.
“Something took over me,” said Good, 34, of Altoona, Pa., after the brief ceremony. “That’s pretty much how it was.”
Five other members of his 5th Special Forces unit, based at Fort Campbell, received Bronze Star medals with valor device Thursday for their actions in the same clash that ended 24 hours after it started with more than 35 insurgents killed, the Army said.
The injured soldier, Sgt. First Class Joseph Briscoe, 37, of Liberty, Texas, whose right arm was blown off by a rocket-propelled grenade during the incident, was among those receiving a Bronze Star. Briscoe, a father of four, said there’s no way to appropriately convey his thanks to Good.
“I don’t know what you say to someone who’s responsible for saving your life,” said Briscoe, who now has a prosthetic arm. “I hope he can understand how grateful I am to him. ... I thank him every time I see him.”
The ceremony on Thursday was dedicated to Staff Sgt. Aaron Holleyman, 26, the 5th Group Army medic who treated Briscoe at the base camp. Holleyman was killed Aug. 30 in Iraq when his vehicle was hit by a land mine.
Good joined the Army in 1989 as a trumpet player, and participated in the 1991 Gulf War. He made the switch to Special Forces 10 years into his career.
“I really enjoyed my time in the band. ... I just kind of tired of it. I just wanted to challenge myself,” said Good, who is engaged and has a 10-year-old son. “I thought I could do this job. Or else I’d be asking myself the rest of my life if I could.”
The 11 men who originally came under fire were members of the Special Operational Detachment Alpha 531. Their mission was to curtail foreign fighters who were infiltrating Iraq along the border in their assigned territory and clear the area of insurgents.
The Army provided the following account of what happened when their two-vehicle convoy drove into the hostile village of Sadah on Oct. 31, 2003:
The clash started when one vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade that ricocheted off the roof of the vehicle.
Eight members went after the assailants.
At the same time, Good, Briscoe and a third soldier in a second vehicle provided security. It was then that Briscoe was hit.
As Briscoe was loaded into the vehicle, Good provided cover fire. Because they had no radio communication, Good then drove the vehicle through small-arms fire to tell the others they were going to the base camp.
But before they could get there, the vehicle was disabled by small-arms and machine-gun fire. Good then negotiated with an Iraqi man in a dilapidated Toyota to drive them to the base camp. Good said he had been taught some Arabic during his training.
Good said he was never worried that the Iraqi would hurt them.
“We were still armed,” Good said.
After dropping Briscoe off, Good returned to the fight with other comrades to assist those left behind. Those left “fought in a street-by-street battle” and at times were outnumbered 4-to-1, according to an Army chronology of events that day.
The unit regrouped that night, then returned the next day to kill five more insurgents and capture 18 others, the Army said.
Capt. David Diamond, 30, of Geneva, Ohio; Sgt. 1st Class Alan Knox, 44, of Reno, Nev.; Sgt. 1st Class Raymond Cook, 40, of Oak Hill, W.Va.; and Staff Sgt. Jason Bacon, 29, of Luther, Mich., were each among those who received Bronze Stars Thursday for valor during the incident.
The Army said the unit’s “swift and violent response crippled the enemy’s ability to effectively operate for months to come ... which saved American and Iraqi lives.”
Good said, “At points ... I really thought probably everybody there was going to die. I was just kind of waiting for it. I just kept doing what I had to do. ... I just looked for that goal, and I achieved it.”
First Lt. Karl Gregory, a 3rd Brigade Combat Team Soldier from the
1st Infantry Division was awarded the Silver Star, the Soldier’s Medal and
the Bronze Star with Valor this month for his actions on three separate
occasions during Operation Iraqi Freedom at ceremonies held in Germany.
Maj. John D. Harrill III, of the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, was awarded the Silver Star for actions that occurred in April 2004 as Marines were fighting to prevent the fall of Ramadi, a city of about 450,000 people. The commendation cited his "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action" while serving as a battalion operations officer.
As quoted in the Richmond Times-Dispatch (December 18, 2005), Major Harrill said, "My actions were the result of the young Marines beside me and their will, their fighting spirit and their savvy."
"We were ambushed by thousands of insurgents," the 35-year-old Marine Corps officer said. While coordinating his battalion's combat units, Harrill personally wiped out enemy machine-gun and rocket-propelled-grenade posts, the commendation noted.
The fighting raged for seven hours that day and extended for two more days "as we hunted down the insurgents and restored order to the city," Harrill said.
His battalion suffered 14 dead and 40 to 60 Marines wounded in that fighting. Enemy losses were estimated between 500 and 600.
He said he was particularly proud of young Marines--"18 and 19-year-old kids right out of high school"-- who performed well not only in combat but in helping Iraqis rebuild their public utilities and "using venture capital to start businesses."
Harrill, the son of a Marine Corps officer, entered the military after graduating from Auburn University in 1993.
Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester of the 617th Military Police Company, a National Guard unit out of Richmond, Ky., received the Silver Star, along with two other members of her unit, for their actions during an enemy ambush on their convoy.
the first time an Army woman was awarded the Silver Star for valor since
World War II, June 16 in Iraq.
Staff Sgt. William Thomas Payne of the 1st Cavalry Division received the United States third highest award for heroism in combat Feb. 27 during a brief ceremony held at the crossed sabers monument in central Baghdad.
Although Maj. Gen. Pete Chiarelli, the division's commander, was on hand to present the award, Payne took the unique opportunity to have the medal pinned on him by his father, Carl Payne, a Department of the Army employee working in Iraq.
“I could never be more proud,” said the elder Payne, a retired Army tanker.
“As a parent it's like a double edged sword though,” he said, speaking of his sons actions. “I'm glad he was recognized for the duty that he did, but it is tough to know that your son risked his life in a situation like that.”
“I've read a lot of citations since I've been here, but I have read none that talks of any greater act of heroism than what Staff Sgt. Payne did that day.” Maj. Gen. Pete Chiarelli
Payne, from Benford, Oklahoma, and an infantryman assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry Regiment, is credited with rescuing a group of soldiers from a disabled Bradley fighting vehicle while under fire last September.
“Staff Sgt. Payne displayed gallantry and valor that was truly amazing,” Chiarelli said. “He did it in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Baghdad—Sheik Maroof.”
The neighborhood has many areas that have been dubbed with nicknames like “Grenade Alley”, and “Purple Heart Lane” by the soldiers who regularly patrol it. The infamous Haifa Street runs along the northern border.
“I've read a lot of citations since I've been here,” Chiarelli added, “but I have read none that talks of any greater act of heroism than what Staff Sgt. Payne did that day.”
During the late morning hours of Sept. 12, 2004, Payne's battalion was wrapping up an operation on Haifa Street. As Bradley fighting vehicles patrolled the streets, soldiers on the ground set up defensive positions in order to pick up other soldiers that had been manning observation posts in high-rise buildings throughout the night.
Payne and his dismounted squad were in their position along the side of the street when the unthinkable happened—a car laden with explosives sped onto the street and detonated into the rear of a Bradley.
“I looked back,” Payne explained, “it was like; there is no way that this was happening.”
A split second later the blasts powerful concussion hit his squad knocking one soldier to the ground.
“When I heard the concussion I knew it was real and it was time to go,” he said.
The force of the blast disabled the 33-ton Bradley bringing it to a halt. It's rear ramp was engulfed in flames and the upper cargo hatch was blown off.
Small arms fire began to rain onto the street, so Payne had Sgt. Richard Frisbie shift the squad into a new position so they could provide cover fire while he and Spc. Chase Ash went to help the soldiers in the Bradley.
“Luckily I had someone there to help out,” Payne said. “I had a soldier to keep control of the squad and another to help me with the wounded.”
Payne and Ash ran 50 meters to the burning vehicle while insurgents fired on them. At the Bradley, Payne climbed up on top and helped two of the crewman out of the turret. He then turned his attention to the infantrymen still inside the crew compartment. One by one he pulled them up through the damaged cargo hatch.
“I lowered them down the side of the Bradley to Spc. Ash so he could get them to safety,” Payne said. “There was a lot of gunfire going on.”
Within seconds of retrieving the wounded soldiers from the Bradley the vehicle's load of ammunition began to cook off from the heat and fire.
According to Payne the whole series of events lasted nearly five minutes.
“All the training just kicked in,” Payne said about what happened. “It's hard to explain, I didn't really have time to think about it.”
Once back in a safe position on the south side of the street Payne's squad teamed together again to further protect the rescued soldiers as the medic treated them.
“Some of the wounded were unable to get their equipment out of the Bradley,” Payne explained. “We had one soldier that didn't have his helmet and another was missing his weapon.”
Payne's men began giving them whatever piece of protective gear they could spare.
“They were giving up goggles and things like that,” Payne added. “They were giving them anything they could to provide them better protection than what they had when they got out of the vehicle.”
When it was safe enough, Payne and his soldiers put the wounded into another Bradley for evacuation to the combat support hospital in the International Zone.
“I owe everything to my squad,” Payne said. “If my squad wasn't there I couldn't have completed that mission. My squad was there for me—that's what it comes down to.”
fight, two against one is bad odds. Ten against one is a recipe for
disaster. Yet those were the odds Sgt. Tommy Rieman and his squad faced and
beat when they were ambushed by more than 50 anti-American insurgents near
Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq in December 2003.
Sgt. Maj. Ron Riling, the 4th Infantry Division's command sergeant major, was serving with the 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division in Rammadi on April 6, 2003. He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions during a fierce fight in which 12 Marines lost their lives.
Riling and his brigade commander, Col. Buck Connor, were notified Marines attached to their brigade were pinned down by enemy fire. Their brigade combat team had been enhanced by two Marine Corps battalions and several National Guard soldiers.
Riling said the decision to enter the fray was an easy one. “The colonel looked at me and said ‘Sergeant Major, let's go.’”
Riling quickly organized his forces and began moving to the embattled Marines. When they entered the main town of Rammadi, they immediately came under direct fire coming from every direction, he said.
“The insurgents were in all different types of buildings waiting for us with (rocket-propelled grenades) and small arms,” he said.
The Marine squad had been pinned down by snipers and was in terrible shape when Riling, Connor and their physical-security detachment arrived on the scene. The squad leader was dead, lying in the middle of the street, and three of the seven Marines were seriously wounded. The senior remaining Marine was a corporal.
“There were no other senior guys around,” Riling said. “That kid was doing the best he could, fighting the fight. I could tell those guys were under a lot of stress and a lot of pressure. They knew what they were doing, but they didn't know where they needed to go next.”
The sergeant major, a 22-year veteran, said he just wanted to get to the site and get the guys out. From past experience, he could tell what was going through “those young guys’ minds” by the sound of their voices on the radio.
As the friendly security force moved in, he said, there were a couple of situations where a few of the insurgents popped out. “They were trying to take out my brigade commander. They were going to take out our doc and a few of our soldiers; but we didn't let that happen,” Riling said.
The group fought its way through withering enemy fire and linked up with the Marines. Riling said he then absorbed the Marines into his team, and they fought their way out. “Some of the guys were laying there wounded. They had gunshot wounds to their legs, and some of them were hurt bad,” he said. “One guy was dead and lying out in the middle of the street. They didn't want to leave him. I respected that about the squad.”
After Riling, Connor and their team evacuated the injured Marines and recovered the Marine squad leader's body, another Marine platoon in the area came under attack by insurgents. Riling and Connor witnessed Marine vehicles being fired on by an Iraqi insurgent armed with rocket-propelled grenades. Riling directed two Bradley Fighting Vehicles from the brigade's reserve into the fight to squelch the attacks.
They saw the insurgent run into a building and had one of the Bradleys knock down a fence surrounding the house. The building was heavily reinforced and had high brick and metal walls. Riling said he knew it was important to act fast, because his colonel and his troops were in a precarious position.
“I thought for sure that someone was going to come out of that house and just start spraying (AK-47 rifle fire),” he said. “I didn't want someone to come out and kill my commander and kill any of our soldiers.”
The lead soldier on the door was Sgt. 1st Class Gibson, who was in charge of the colonel's physical-security detachment. Gibson was attempting to kick the door down but couldn't get it to budge. Riling said he was worried -- it was taking too much time. So the 6-feet, 2-inch Riling yelled at Gibson to move out of the way.
“As he moved out of the way, I just crashed through that door. I remember barreling through the door with my left shoulder, and I just knocked the door right off the hinges,” said Riling, who weighs 198 pounds.
As a result, the insurgent hiding behind the door was mortally wounded and died.
In all, 12 Marines attached to the brigade lost their lives that day. Remarkably, none of the brigade's soldiers died, but many were wounded during the intense fighting.
Riling said he felt good his soldiers were able to accomplish their mission, but there is always some room for regret when it involves losing soldiers and Marines.
“I felt bad; I mean, we lost 12 Marines that day,” he said. “It's very depressing, and it makes you think. You always say to yourself, ‘What could you have done better?’ In my mind, we did everything we could.”
Riling said his actions that day were just those of a soldier doing his job.
“I don't claim to be a hero for getting this award. I don't want to be labeled as a hero. I felt I was just another soldier on the battlefield, doing my job, helping other soldiers and helping Marines,” Riling explained.
Army Maj. Gen. J.D. Thurman, 4th Infantry Division commander, said Riling's actions clearly indicate the kind of a soldier Riling is and why he could not have picked a better senior noncommissioned officer to lead the division.
“I think the nation is lucky to have soldiers like him who are willing to put their lives on the line,” said Thurman. “It's important to have professionals such as Command Sergeant Major Riling in our formation. He sets the example and is a role model. Courage is paramount with guys like him. He embodies all of the things that we want in a professional soldier. (He is) loyal, open, honest, trusting. That's the type of soldier that he is.”
If there is any advice he can pass on to the division's soldiers as they begin to prepare for potential future deployments, Riling said, it is to take this war seriously. Soldiers must train as hard as they can and be as proficient in their warfighting skills as humanly possible, he said.
“Be an expert on your weapon. Be physically fit. Be ready to go, because the call could happen any time to go back to the fight,” Riling said. “If you're not physically fit and mentally ready, and if you're not an expert at your weapon, you are going to lose somebody.”
Spc. Micheaux Sanders, C Company, 2nd Battalion, 37th Armor, 1st Armored Division.
was deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 fresh from Army basic
training. His tank crew and two others from his unit were called to the aid
of a 1st Cavalry patrol trapped in an ambush by Iraqi insurgents.
Sgt. 1st Class Swope, a platoon sergeant in the battalion's Company C, and Staff Sgt. Miltenberger, a dismounted squad leader in Company A, were presented their medals by Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, commanding general of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, for "exceptional valor in combat during Operation Lancer Fury."
Operation Lancer Fury took place in early April in Baghdad's Shi'ite neighborhood, known as "Sadr City." The operation was a response to the first violent insurgency by rebel Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia.
Swope distinguished himself in "fierce urban combat" on Route Delta in Sadr City after his platoon encountered a deliberate ambush set by the militia near the slum's Sadr Bureau April 4.
"The day turned ugly real quick," Swope said. "We just tried to stay alive and get out of there."
During the ambush, Swope organized a hasty defense while exposed to enemy fire and personally engaged enemy positions for more than five minutes of sustained contact.
When his platoon made the call to abandon their humvees and set-up hasty fighting positions, Swope remained with the vehicles so he could maintain radio contact with his battalion headquarters and request reinforcements.
Swope remained in the vehicle by himself for more than two hours, under enemy fire while the rest of his platoon took cover in nearby hasty-fighting positions. He was able to maintain radio contact with the battalion during this time, which allowed his platoon to be located by aerial assets, and their eventual extraction by a group of armored vehicles.
"We were so glad when those vehicles came to help us and get us out of there," he said. "I just took all my guys and got out of there as quickly as we could."
While en route back to Camp Eagle, one of his platoon's surviving vehicles got stuck on an enemy obstacle. Without hesitating, Swope dismounted from his own vehicle and assisted with its recovery under intense enemy fire, saving the lives of the three Soldiers inside.
The following morning, Swope volunteered to command a Bradley Fighting Vehicle and joined an ad hoc platoon in securing the Al-Thawra Iraqi Police Station in Sadr City.
For the next two days, Swope controlled the elements maintaining the outer-cordon around the IP Station, which was composed of two Abrams tanks and two Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The fields of fire he designated for his Soldiers enabled them to engage and destroy the a large number of enemies who attempted to engage them day and night.
Swope was in command of the security force of the Al-Afreeden IP Station when he called-in air-support to neutralize a group of enemy rocket-propelled grenade gunners April 8. Because of the precision of Swope's coordinates, the RPG gunners were destroyed and collateral damaged was kept to a minimum.
Miltenberger distinguished himself for "valorous achievement" in combat, also on April 4.
After engaging the enemy in Sadr City, he directed his squad in precise and lethal fire against Muqtada militia attackers. Miltenberger himself engaged several enemies while performing critical medical care on the wounded Soldiers in his squad.
In addition to the two Silver Stars awarded at the ceremony, six Bronze Stars, 16 Army Commendation Medals with Valor-device, and 20 Purple Hearts were awarded to Soldiers with 2-5 Cav. for Operation Lancer Fury and other operations undertaken by Force Lancer.
Pvt. Dwayne Turner, a combat medic assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, provided life-saving medical care to 16 fellow soldiers on April 13, 2003 when his unit came under a grenade and small-arms attack 30 miles south of Baghdad.
Turner and two other medics from Company A of that battalion were part of a work detail that came under attack as they unloaded supplies in a makeshift operations center.
"I moved to (my vehicle) just before the first grenade came over the wall," Turner said. "The blast threw me even further into the vehicle, and I took on some shrapnel."
Ignoring his own injuries, Turner ran to the front of his vehicle and saw a soldier with eye injuries.
"I checked him out, and tried to get him into a building," Turner said. The other two medics established a triage system under the cover of a building while Turner ran back outside to bring more soldiers into the makeshift clinic.
"I just started assessing the situation, seeing who was hurt, giving them first aid and pulling them into safety," he said, downplaying his actions on that day.
Turner, his legs wounded by shrapnel in the initial attack, was shot at least twice while giving first aid to the soldiers.
"I didn't realize I was shot," he said. "A couple of times, I heard bullets going by, but I thought they were just kicking up rocks on me."
At one point during the attack, one of Turner's fellow medics told him he was bleeding. "Someone told me, 'Doc Turner, Doc Turner, you're bleeding.'" he said. "I looked down at my leg and saw I was bleeding, and kind of said, 'Oh hell, if I'm not dead yet, I guess I'm not dying.'"
"I don't think he realized how much blood he lost," said Sgt. Neil Mulvaney, from the same unit as Turner.
"After I got the first patient inside the building, I sort of slumped down in the corner," Turner said. "I didn't think there was any way we were going to get out of there, and it would have been really easy to just stay in that corner.
"Then I heard (the wounded) calling for medics," he continued, "and I realized I could let them continue to get hurt -- and possibly die -- and not come home to their families, or I could do something about it."
Turner chose to do something about it. He continued to give first aid and to bring soldiers in from the barrage of gunfire outside the compound until he finally collapsed against a wall from loss of blood. A bullet had broken his right arm. He had been shot in the left leg. Shrapnel had torn into both of his legs.
The Silver Star is awarded for gallantry in combat, but Turner does not see himself as a hero.
"Nobody gets left behind," he said emphatically. "We were the medical personnel on hand. You're not relieved from your duty until someone comes. No one else was going to get the job done, so we did."
Although Turner downplays his heroism, the Army believes that at least two of the 16 soldiers he treated would have died had he not been there.
"He risked his life for 16 other men without noticing his own injuries - that's heroism in my book," Mulvaney said.
"I was just doing my job," Turner insisted. "As far as the values of the Army, it's not to 'earn' a Silver Star; it's to uphold what you signed on for. Other people may see me as a hero; I see myself as doing my job. No one is going to die on my watch."
Turner received the Purple Heart in July 2003.