3rd SFG Soldier receives Soldier’s Medal for heroism

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http://sinepari.soc.mil/News/2008/March/SP-080320-01.html

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Sine Pari, Mar. 20, 2008) – Heat. The intense heat of an entire building on fire. A Soldier rushes in, past highly explosive crates of ammunition, in order to help those inside.

It was a situation similar to this which John Burns and James Martin faced Aug. 18, 1926 at Pig’s Point Ordnance Reserve Depot, Va. Both, who were only privates first class at the time, were the first individuals to be awarded the Soldier’s Medal.

Although most may imagine this heroism associated with burning buildings or drowning, this was not the case with Staff Sgt. Matthew Keefe, who with no less courage put his own life at risk the night of Oct. 9, 2006.

Keefe, a Special Forces engineer sergeant with 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), was awarded the Soldier’s Medal March 19 at Col. Aaron Bank Hall for his actions that night.

While deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Keefe found himself at Camp Vance delivering personal gear to a wounded Soldier at Bagram Airfield after a mission. It was there he spent the night waiting for transportation back to his Operation Detachment-Alpha.
During the night, he was awoken by a commotion outside his tent.

“In his room, he sensed something was wrong and out of the ordinary,” said Lt. Gen. Robert W. Wagner, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, at the award ceremony. “Some people at that point would say, ‘I’m not going out there.’ But he went out to assess the situation and immediately sensed it was critical.”

Stepping outside his quarters, Keefe noticed an armed U.S. Soldier acting irregular. The Soldier told Keefe there was a firefight occurring nearby and an enemy attack on Bagram Airfield was about to happen. This sounded unusual to Keefe, as no alert had sounded signaling an attack.

“It was apparent the person was under a tremendous amount of stress and had created a situation that was critical to the lives of many other people,” Wagner said.

It became clear to Keefe the Soldier was acting irrationally and something had to be done to diffuse the potentially dangerous situation.

“Putting himself in a considerable amount of risk, he entered a role-playing engagement with this individual, convincing him the situation was different than he perceived it,” Wagner said. “A lot of people wouldn’t have the sense of judgment on how to engage this situation.”

By sharing common experiences with the Soldier, Keefe began to gain his confidence.

“I don’t know if any one thing was going through my head,” Keefe said. “I was just kind of bouncing off of what was happening at the moment. It was a bad situation, and I thought the easiest thing to do was to not change it (too hastily).”

Continuing to role-play, Keefe convinced the Soldier that several nearby Soldiers were not a threat. He then told them to notify the camp commandant for more assistance. Since the Soldier was now feeling comfortable with Keefe, he handed his pistol over to him, but held onto his rifle. Shortly after this, the camp commandant arrived.

Moving out of the Soldier’s hearing range, Keefe reported the situation and recommended the camp commandant follow his lead in the role-play.

Keefe then encouraged the Soldier to hand him his rifle, then go with the camp commandant to give him a full report. As the Soldier was at ease with Keefe by this point, he did as asked and went peacefully with the commandant.

“I just knew it was somebody that we needed to help,” Keefe said. “We all look after each other. That is something that is common to us all in the unit. This was someone who had looked after us before, and I felt like we had to look after him at that point.”

Wagner said this quick and creative thinking helped to resolve a potentially deadly situation without harm.

“(It shows) your commitment to what had to be done and your willingness to do it,” he said. “You made a great personal sacrifice, there’s no doubt about that.”
Maj. Gen. Thomas R. Csrnko, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Forces Command (Airborne), was also present for the awarding. He said Keefe’s decisive actions not only speak highly of his character, but also of all Special Forces Soldiers.

“We honor not only what he did, but also that fact that it takes an incredible man to know how to act in a situation like that,” Csrnko said. “It not only calls to mind courage, but the commitment to take charge of the situation. One of the things we as Special Forces have the level of maturity to know how to handle these situations. As General Wagner often states, we know when to go from direct to indirect to handle a different situation.”

As with many of his comrades, this is not the first time Keefe has been recognized. He was recently awarded a Silver Star for his actions in Afghanistan, and has previously received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. Also like many of his brothers-in-arms, Keefe would rather not remain the center of attention.

“Now he will tell you that he does not want to be out here in front of everybody, but back in his team room doing what he gets paid to do as a member of his ODA,” Csrnko said during the ceremony.

Keefe said he was more concerned about the others who were present during the situation.

“I just want everyone here to not focus on me, but the other person involved that day, who hopefully has made a full recovery from that incident,” Keefe said.

Not only did the ceremony honor Keefe, but it was also used as a time to remember the fallen Soldiers of 1st Bn., 3rd SFG(A), known as the Task Force 31 Desert Eagles during their deployment, as well as the impact and successes the unit had.

Keefe said he attributes his actions to those unit members and the training he has received, especially the support and lessons learned from his fellow teammates.

“I’ve had the privilege to work with some incredible people,” Keefe said. “I’ve learned a lot from them. They’ve taken care of me throughout all of this.”

soldier20medalbo4.jpg

Maj. Gen. Thomas R. Csrnko (left), USASFC(A) commanding general, and Lt. Gen. Robert W. Wagner (right), USASOC commanding general, congratulate Staff Sgt. Matthew Keefe after he received the Soldier's Medal in an award ceremony March 19. Keefe, a Special Forces engineer sergeant from 1st Bn., 3rd SFG(A), was awarded the Soldier's Medal for heroic actions in Afghanistan in 2006. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Anthony Hawkins Jr., USASOC PAO)
 
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