SFer earns Silver Star


running up that hill
Jan 3, 2007
in Wonderland, with my Alice

To the south was a small river, flanked by trees and other vegetation, a few buildings. To the north were mountains pocked with crude structures.

And soon, in every direction, Taliban.

Army Staff Sgt. Erasmo Espino Jr. and the rest of his team were driving back from a three-day patrol in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province when gunfire exploded on them from an estimated 200 enemy fighters.

It didn’t take long for Espino, a medic, to recognize how dire the situation could become.

“Wow,” he thought, “there’s a lot of people shooting at us.”

The night before — May 18, 2006 — his group of about 30 American and Afghan soldiers had overheard enemy transmissions that insurgents were massing to ambush them, but that kind of chatter was routine, he said.

That morning, they started to head back to base in a series of Ground Mobility Vehicles.

“There was only one way in, one way out, so we pretty much had to take the same road that we used to come in through,” Espino said.

About 5 p.m., the team noticed that no local Afghans were outside.

“It was like a ghost town,” he said.

The soldiers had a bad feeling, but they had been through ambushes before, so they pushed on.

“That’s when everything just suddenly exploded — just an eruption of fire coming from pretty much everywhere,” Espino said.

Initially, the team kept the enemy at bay, but then American troops started going down. The enemy fighters were well hidden and, in the daylight, muzzle flashes were hard to pick out.

“When you have 150 guys shooting at you, you’re going to start to take casualties,” Espino said. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what unit you are.”

As Espino drove through the kill zone, his turret gunner got hit in the neck.

The gunner collapsed inside the vehicle with blood spurting from his neck. Espino, still driving, tried to stuff a rag into the wound.

He was finally able to stop and tried to treat the gunner, but they hadn’t escaped the kill zone.

“The guy’s calm, he’s talking to me ... but you can tell he’s kind of leaving me,” Espino said. “And, eventually, he just kind of stopped responding. He closes his eyes.”

Then the radio came to life A call for a medic. Then another, and another.

Espino wondered how he’d make it across that gauntlet to reach his fellow soldiers. But there was little time for an internal strategy session.

“Everybody was screaming for a medic,” he said. “So I just take off running.”

The first soldier he came to had been shot and then dragged by his vehicle before falling to the ground.

Espino was able to patch up the man’s chest wound enough to save his life.

The next soldier had been shot multiple times in the chest and once in the leg. They were behind a vehicle that offered some cover, but not much. As Espino worked to save the soldier’s life, a rocket-propelled grenade landed just feet from them.

The vehicle took most of the impact, Espino said, but the wounded soldier caught shrapnel. Espino was not hit. He kept working.

From one soldier to the next, Espino gathered the wounded and threw them into a vehicle, but when he went to drive it, the transmission failed.

He went to Plan B and told a fellow soldier to push them from behind with another vehicle. But Espino’s vehicle got stuck, so he attempted to move all of the wounded into the second vehicle.

There wasn’t room, so Sgt. 1st Class James Sanchez, who was shot in the leg and hip, rode on the hood. It was, Espino estimated, five miles back to the base and the fight followed them.

“It’s ridiculous, the ambush never stops,” he said. “The whole movement back to our firebase, it never stopped.”

The team did make it back, and Espino treated eight of his teammates. For his tenacious efforts, Espino, now a sergeant first class, was awarded the Silver Star.

America still has heroes and he's another. Although, you'd never know it through the MSM...........

Outstanding. Very much justified for a higher level award IMHO.

Well done Green Beret.

The first time he was wounded, it was almost an afterthought.

The insurgents were a mere 15 meters away, so when the bullet sped past his head, Staff Sgt. Ryan Stovall knew he was lucky to be alive. That the round exploded into a nearby rock, launching bullet fragments and stone into his left leg, well, that was something he could deal with.

Stovall was one of four Green Berets who, along with two Marines and seven Afghan soldiers, were heading down a valley on July 29, 2009, to see if insurgents would flee from the back of a village as U.S. military vehicles entered the front. He’d noticed movement in some vegetation at the bottom of the valley. Soon the firefight began.

Despite his wound, Stovall, a medic, fired more than a hundred rounds from his Squad Automatic Weapon, or SAW, giving the rest of his team crucial seconds to find cover, his command said.

But outnumbered by enemies on higher ground, they had to cross a small open field to reach a more protected position.

“As soon as we broke cover, enemy fire picked up — like tenfold — to the point where I was running crouched, zigzagging, trying not to get shot,” Stovall said. “I didn’t make it back to the next cover and concealed position. I made it to a little rock in the field and grabbed some dirt.

“While I was laying there waiting for the fire to slow down, I was watching the bullets clip the grass around me.”

That’s when Stovall heard that his patrol leader, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Douglas M. Vose III, was shot.

Stovall made his way behind a wall where he found four Afghan soldiers, some in the fetal position.

“I can’t really blame them,” he said. “We were taking fire from almost 360 degrees at this point.”

Stovall grabbed the Afghans and started physically placing them along the wall to provide cover fire.

An insurgent appeared on the other side of the wall. Stovall dropped a grenade over the wall and the insurgent ran to avoid the blast. As the insurgent took off, Stovall released a burst from his SAW and the insurgent fell.

He saw another insurgent. Another burst, another insurgent down.

Stovall then made his way to Vose and, with the help of Sgt. 1st Class Justin J. Aflague and Staff Sgt. Jarred Shewey, moved the wounded patrol leader behind a wall.

“He was conscious but not lucid,” Stovall said. “His eyes were open but he wasn’t seeing anything or making any movements that made any sense. It took some time for the medical evacuation to arrive as the pilots were understandably hesitant to land in all the chaos.”

The fire dwindled and the fight was over once Vose was evacuated — but he didn’t make it.

Intelligence officials later confirmed the death of three Taliban leaders in the valley.

“We also killed something like 15 to 20 of their minions,” Stovall said.

Stovall never saw a doctor for his leg, opting to perform minor surgery on himself to remove most of the fragments. X-rays show a few pieces remain in his leg.

For their actions in the battle, Stovall and Aflague earned Bronze Star medals with “V” device. Shewey earned an Army Commendation Medal with “V” device. Stovall also got a Purple Heart.

“You can get hurt and go lay down and wait for someone to take care of you. But they were champing at the bit to get back,” Maj. Bradley Fisher, commander of Company A, 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, said of Stovall and his teammates. “They came back still in bandages but ready to fight,”

And the fight would indeed find Stovall again.

Five weeks later, on Sept. 4, Stovall and a team of Green Berets were dropped off by helicopter at midnight near a village in the Uzbin Valley. From noon until dark, they watched armed men pour into the village.

“I have no doubt they knew we were up there because there were shepherds wandering around and they saw us,” Stovall said.

Upon completing the reconnaissance mission, they fell back to a hilltop to wait on a French helicopter.

After hours of waiting, they got word the helicopter was on the way. It was 12:30 a.m. when they began to take fire from the base of the hill — rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and small arms.

Stovall grabbed Sgt. 1st Class Sean Laske and they ran to cover the backs of three soldiers positioned about 30 meters from the rest of the team. Bullets were flying by.

“It was obvious someone could see us under the full moon,” Stovall said. “They could see us better than we saw them.”

They heard the main group call for mortar fire over the radio. Stovall was worried about getting hit by friendly fire since the battery was about five kilometers away and they were 50 meters from the main position.

But as Stovall and Laske raced to rejoin the main group, the enemy spotted their muzzle flashes and began firing.

Within five seconds, Laske was struck twice in the hand, once in the helmet and once in the back. Fortunately, two of the bullets struck body armor and didn’t penetrate.

Stovall was less fortunate. As he made his sprint, an RPG tore through his left leg.

“We were getting the [expletive] shot out of us,” Stovall said. “It was intense. I had enough adrenaline going through me to make it back, but those were the last steps I took. My leg was obviously toast.”

The French helicopter arrived about 15 minutes later. Stovall took off toward the aircraft but quickly fell down. His leg was useless.

Laske helped him to the helicopter.

“The helicopter had to sit there for a while since our three-legged race wasn’t moving very fast,” Stovall said.

The fight was over, and so was Stovall’s deployment.

He earned an Army Commendation Medal with a “V” device for his actions that day. And this time he did see doctors for his injuries. But over time his leg healed and he now has full use of it.

“The idea of quitting or stopping never entered his mind,” Fisher said. “They’re in a horrible situation, getting attacked from multiple sides in both situations and he gets wounded and just continues on with the mission.”

Staff Sgt. Ryan Stovall pictured in Afghanistan where he earned a Bronze Star with ''V,'' an Army Commendation Medal with ''V'' and a Purple Heart.

Staff Sgt. Ryan Stovall pictured in Afghanistan where he earned a Bronze Star with ''V,'' an Army Commendation Medal with ''V'' and a Purple Heart.