Soldier earns Silver Star for braving hidden bombs to recover 14 troops
April 25, 2014
SPRINGFIELD, Va. (April 21, 2014) -- As he crawled on his hands and knees, looking for the hidden bombs that lay between him and a fallen soldier, Spc. Samuel Crockett forced any negative thoughts out of his mind.
"I put it out of my head," he said. "I just focused on what I was doing, where my feet were."
Crockett, an explosive ordnance disposal technician, is credited with repeatedly braving a compound seeded with hidden improvised explosive devices to save as many as 14 troops during an Oct. 5 raid gone horribly wrong in Afghanistan. For his actions, Crockett, 21, was awarded the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest award for valor.
"I'm honored [and] I was really surprised," Crockett said.
Crockett, of the 28th Ordnance Company, an airborne EOD unit at Fort Bragg, N.C., was honored April 8 at Fort Benning, Ga. Also recognized that day were several soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. Many were honored for their actions during the same October raid, while others received awards for actions during the battalion's recent deployment.
Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster, commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, presented eight Bronze Star Medals with V device, 14 Army Commendation Medals with V device, and eight Purple Hearts.
On Oct. 5, an assault force of 40 soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, was tasked with raiding a Taliban bomb-maker's compound in Zhari district west of Kandahar.
As the soldiers approached the compound, said to be a factory for suicide vests and improvised explosive devices, a woman wearing a suicide vest emerged from a building and detonated the vest.
The explosion triggered a second blast, and six soldiers were wounded. As Rangers rushed to the wounded, a third bomb went off, wounding two more soldiers.
North of the compound, soldiers released Jani, a military working dog, to chase a fleeing insurgent. The insurgent detonated his suicide vest, killing himself and Jani.
The first medevac helicopter landed to load casualties. As the dust from the rotor wash spread, a series of explosions went off. An IED exploded when1st Lt. Jennifer Moreno, a nurse assigned to a special operations cultural support team, moved to aid a teammate. She was killed instantly.
Then Sgt. Patrick Hawkins and Spc. Cody Patterson, both of 3rd Battalion, were killed when two more IEDs exploded as they moved toward a wounded soldier.
The fourth soldier killed that day, Sgt. Joseph Peters, a special agent with the 5th Military Police Battalion, died after triggering two IEDs as he returned from helping the wounded at the medevac landing zone.
As the number of casualties grew, the ground force commander called for a quick-reaction force of 20 personnel, including Crockett. Crockett and his platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Marodda Tedesco, knowing of potential hazards on the helicopter landing zone, fast- roped in first, according to the narrative with Crockett's award.
The two men cleared an insertion point for the incoming QRF, working through limited visibility and brown-out conditions.
"We train (for) situations like this," Crockett said. "You're never really ready for it, but we were prepared for it."
Using a metal detector, Crockett cleared a path for the QRF to get to the casualty collection point, and he then cleared another to ensure medical personnel could move freely to care for the wounded, according to the narrative.
Crockett then moved on to clear paths for troops who were stopped for fear of triggering another explosion.
"They were pretty much stranded, so we cleared to them," Crockett said.
Despite the danger, Crockett continued to work, clearing a 10-meter path to the center of the IED-laden terrain to recover the remains of Hawkins and Jani.
Realizing they were the only two EOD technicians on the objective, Crockett and Tedesco, who received a Bronze Star Medal with V device for his actions that day, continued to recover sensitive items and personnel.
When another bomb went off as troops tried to recover Moreno's remains, Crockett ran toward the wounded troops and began to render first aid. Tedesco suffered shrapnel wounds and had to be guided onto a safe path to get to the casualty collection point.
Spc. Kyle Emmons lost his right leg in the blast, and Crockett applied a tourniquet and dragged him to safety. Crockett then went back to find Sgt. Derek Guay, who had been knocked off the cleared path. Five meters into his deliberate clearance, Crockett triggered another IED.
"I was going real slow, taking my time with it, but I still stepped on it," he said. "I saw the earth pop, just a puff in the ground."
Crockett picked a new route and kept moving. Once he got Guay to safety and talked with the QRF leader, Crockett determined he could safely get to Moreno. He had all personnel move a safe distance away and began to clear a path, by hand, to her.
"Completely alone and exposing himself to the known threats in the IED belt, Spc. Crockett utilized a drag line to move [the fallen soldier] back onto a cleared path from where he could safely bring her to the casualty collection point to be prepared for transport," according to the narrative.
Crockett "endured the most chaotic circumstances while continuously traversing an ambiguous tactical situation and consistently put himself in the most dangerous positions," according to the narrative. "Following the final detonation that incapacitated [his platoon sergeant], Crockett took control of the entire objective, managing the movement and clearance of all personnel."
Crockett "repeatedly elected to enter uncleared areas and ... recovered 14 total personnel," his narrative states.
Crockett said he's honored to receive the Silver Star from the 75th Ranger Regiment.
"I'm honored that they chose to do this," he said.
(posted with permission from Army Times)