BOBLINGEN, Gemany — Within the fraternity of Army Special Forces, the brotherhood formed during the Qualification Course in the woods of Camp Mackall, North Carolina can only be sealed in one way – through combat.
The men of 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) gathered on the morning of Feb. 4 at Panzer Kaserne here to recognize the courage of three men who sealed the bond of brotherhood during the course of surviving two close ambushes in Afghanistan. Staff Sgts. Ryan Stovall and Jarred Shewey and Sgt. 1st Class Justin Aflague were each awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Valor. Stovall was additionally awarded the Army Commendation Medal for Valor and two Purple Hearts. Not present due to school attendance was Sgt. 1st Class Sean Laske, who received the Bronze Star for valor as well.
On the morning of July 29, 2009, the team of Green Berets, along with U.S. Marine Corps elements and Afghan National Army soldiers conducted a patrol into the northern Uzbin Valley, northeast of Kabul. The patrol was to include visits with key leadership in several Afghan villages along the way. As they approached one of the villages known to be hostile, they dismounted their vehicles to clear a vegetated area.
"We had visited Bomdalay [a neighboring village] earlier, and word travels fast in Afghanistan about coalition forces moving through the area," said Stovall, "so we wanted to try to catch them coming out the back of Sra Qalah as we approached."
The team not only caught insurgents coming out of the back of the village, they walked into a coordinated close ambush hidden in the vegetated area.
"It was hectic to say the least," said Stovall, who caught some AK-47 shrapnel in his leg during the initial volley of fire, "but you don't think about it, you just react and do what you've got to do."
The team did react, and they were able to enact a stiff penalty upon those who chose to engage them, killing three high ranking enemy commanders and more than a dozen enemy fighters. Unfortunately, during the battle, Chief Warrant Officer Doug Vose was seriously wounded by enemy machine gun fire.
Aflague was the first to reach Vose after he was hit and immediately started providing first aid. After Stovall, the patrol's medic, arrived to take over treatment of Vose, Aflague continued to provide chest compressions with one hand while simultaneously directing supporting fires onto enemy positions via radio with his other hand. When not on the radio or providing chest compressions, Aflague engaged the enemy with Stovall's machine gun.
"Everyone knew what they needed to do," said Aflague, "Ryan had positioned ANA to cover our flank and was working on Doug, Jarred was firing toward another flank to prevent our position from being overrun, and I was plugging holes wherever needed."
Within 25 minutes, the air MEDEVAC bird landed on the hot landing zone and extracted Vose, who succumbed to his wounds enroute to the hospital.
"We were devastated," said Stovall. Aflague added, "I might as well have lost one of my own flesh and blood." But the team recovered. Stovall's leg healed quickly, and slightly more than a month later, the detachment was conducting another reconnaissance mission in the Laghman Province where they encountered the enemy at close range once again.
After sundown on the evening of Sep. 4, the detachment prepared for air extraction from a hilltop where they were spying an insurgent leadership meeting. Just after midnight, fifteen minutes before the scheduled extraction, insurgents opened fire on their patrol from four directions, leading with RPG rounds. Reacting quickly, Stovall and Laske, the team's intelligence sergeant, promptly returned fire on multiple enemy positions located approximately 150 meters east of the patrol. As they maneuvered to gain a better position on the enemy, Stovall was hit in the leg – the same leg as before – and Laske was struck four times: once in the hand, twice in the helmet and once in the rear plate of his body armor.
Stovall didn't have time to think about his wounds. "I realized my leg wasn't working very well, but there wasn’t any pain – a little discomfort maybe – but no pain," he said.
Ignoring intense machine gun fire, Laske and Stovall, despite their wounds, continued to flank the enemy and engage hostile positions, which allowed the rest of the patrol to mass fires and eventually halt the enemy's advance. Only at this point could Stovall tend to Laske's and his own wounds as the rest of the team prepared for extraction.
With French Tiger gunships providing air support and a French Caracal helicopter arriving on a hot landing zone to pick them up, the team once again prevailed during an intense firefight in the face of a determined and numerically superior enemy.
"Every single one of these men put themselves in harm's way because their brothers were in danger," said Maj. Gen. Frank Kisner, Commander of Special Operations Command Europe, "It's a bond that’s hard to comprehend, but it’s what makes Special Forces so critical, so important, so much of a national treasure."