Medic 'a true hero' on battlefield
October 30, 2008
By Don Kramer
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - A former 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division commander returned to Fort Lewis Oct. 23 to pin the nation's second-highest award for valor on the chest of one of the brigade's medics.
Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli presented the Distinguished Service Cross to Staff Sgt. Christopher B. Waiters, only the 17th awarded since the Vietnam War. The Army medic is now stationed at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, but returned last week to receive the award he earned on April 5, 2007, while assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment as a combat medic.
The ceremony took place at Soldiers Field House, with his entire former brigade filling the bleachers.
Chiarelli said Waiters set an example of "the very best of military values: loyalty, selfless service, personal courage. Something inside Staff Sgt. Waiters led to his pulling wounded comrades out of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle without regard for safety - the sense of duty to follow Soldiers into the crucible of combat that defines who we are."
Waiters, then a specialist attached to Attack Company, 5-20 Inf., responded to a catastrophic vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack on a BFV.
Waiters fought his way to the scene, killing two insurgents en route with his M-4 rifle. He exposed himself to enemy fire, running across 80 meters of open ground between his Stryker Medical Evacuation Vehicle and the disabled Bradley to pull two crewmen out of the front hatches despite flames and intense heat.
Upon learning that a third crew member was trapped in the vehicle, Waiters returned to the Bradley. Waiters found him already dead, but ran to his Stryker to get a body bag and again returned to the burning BFV to recover the deceased Soldier.
The A Company executive officer, Capt. Timothy Price, said the award went up the chain of command as one of a number of Silver Star recommendations for heroic acts by 5-20 Inf. Soldiers, but when it arrived at 3rd Brigade, Col. Stephen Townsend recommended upgrading it to the DSC.
Waiters said he had never seen one when he heard about the recommendation in August 2007 as the unit was preparing to redeploy from Iraq.
"I had to go look up the picture of a DSC on the Internet," he said.
The award was finally approved a year later in August 2008.
"It's an honor to receive it," Waiters said. "I was doing what I was trained to do. That's what I was there for."
Price said the combat medic had a reputation in the company and throughout the battalion for running to the sound of the guns to help wounded Soldiers. In fact, he had survived seven near misses during his last tour in Iraq.
"Doc Waiters got hit in the head once in Buhriz in the helmet," Price said, "got nicked in the shoulder on patrol with us one night north of Baqubah, had a water bottle shot out from his face earlier in the deployment, and got nicked in the wrist in Old Baqubah. This guy has been in harm's way many times before this happened. He's being modest when he says he was just doing his job. The guy is a true hero for what he did."
The current Arrowhead Brigade commander, Col. David Funk, said Waiters fulfilled two unchanging truths about the Army: "the first is that those of us who are privileged to wear the uniform are doubly privileged by the fact that heroes walk among us; the second truth is that true heroes, those deserving of the name, are filled with an inspiring level of humility."
Waiters' parents, residents of Lacey, and his sister stood next to him during the ceremony, and a long line of well wishers snaked around the field house to shake his hand or hug him afterward.
Included in the group was retired Maj. Gen. John Hemphill, 81, who himself earned the DSC for valor during the Korean War. He wore his medal on the lapel of his blazer.
The Vice Chief saw their bravery and sacrifice in combat as demonstrations of the values that make the country great.
"We are eternally grateful that we have Soldiers who are fierce on the field of battle, but humbled by the scars earned there," Chiarelli said. "It is what defines the soul of our nation; it is what makes our nation so great, that we have citizen Soldiers willing to sacrifice so much, willing to voluntarily step into the confusion of the battlefield ... When our Soldiers patrol the dusty fields of far-off lands and the panicked cry of 'Medic' shatters the air, I know in my heart, I know in my soul, that another Staff Sgt. Waiters is on his way."
Don Kramer is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.