'Soldiers' NCO' earns Medal of Honor for heroic deeds in Afghanistan
September 14, 2009
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 14, 2009) -- Ask anyone - family, friends, Soldiers - who knew Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti of the 10th Mountain Division, and they'll tell you he was the best friend, best Soldier, best noncommissioned officer, best person they ever knew.
"He set an example in every way, shape and form," said former Capt. Ross A. Berkoff, the unit's intelligence officer, explaining that Monti was known as the best NCO in the 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment (Recon), 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
"He was willing to stand up for his Soldiers," added now-Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Grzecki. "He didn't care what the guy above him thought of him as long as he knew that he was doing the right thing to take care of his guys."
Monti would have done anything for his Soldiers, so after the initial shock, no one was surprised that he sacrificed his life to save another Soldier during an intense firefight with Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, June 21, 2006.
<b>First for Afghanistan</b>
He was posthumously promoted to sergeant first class the following day and will be the first Soldier awarded the Medal of Honor for Operation Enduring Freedom Thursday, when President Barack Obama presents the nation's highest honor to Monti's parents in a White House ceremony. Monti will also be honored in a Pentagon ceremony Friday.
Monti will actually be the second servicemember to receive the Medal of Honor for valor in Afghanistan as a Navy Seal, Lt. Michael Murphy, was posthumously presented the medal two years ago for his actions in a 2005 battle against Taliban fighters in the remote Hindu Kush mountains.
Monti earned the Medal when he and 15 other Soldiers became the first American servicemembers to ever set foot in the Gremen Valley, near the Pakistan border. Reports had showed insurgents were in the area, but not their exact location, their numbers or the types of weapons they had.
Monti's patrol consisted of two six-man "Kill Teams" led by now-Sgt. 1st Class Christopher M. Cunningham and now-Staff Sgt. John Hawes, combinations of snipers and forward observers. Because the mission was dangerous, the teams were assigned several extra scouts, a medic and Monti. Although Monti had helped build the Kill Teams with his best men, he hadn't been out on a mission with them yet and the men were excited to work together.
They were on a reconnaissance mission to provide their command with information on the enemy before the 3rd BCT began a larger push into the region for Operation Gowardesh Thrust. They were supposed to stay hidden - not an easy feat for 16 men - and avoid engaging the enemy if possible; but Hawes said both he and several other Soldiers had gut feelings that something wasn't right.
Dropped off at a mortar-firing position near the Gowardesh Bridge on the evening of June 17, the Soldiers began a difficult climb up the mountain the next day. Moving mostly at night to avoid enemy detection, they climbed for three days before reaching their first observation point at a plateau 2,600 meters above sea level the evening of June 20, the night before the operation was scheduled to begin.
But unit commanders were forced to push the attack back at least 24 hours. Cunningham said they knew they had to push forward because of the danger of detection, but they needed more food and water.
A resupply was supposed to occur after dark, protecting their position, but Hawes was chagrined to see large white packages dropping less than 150 meters from them in broad daylight. When some of the men returned with the supplies, it was to see a man watching them with military-grade binoculars - unusual for the average Afghan villager.
A couple of hours later as dusk was falling and Monti, Cunningham and Hawes were discussing their options, a rocket-propelled grenade flew over their heads and they were overwhelmed by a stunning amount of firepower. Some of the Soldiers' rifles were shot out of their hands while others couldn't even reach their weapons. Monti got on the radio to call in indirect fire and air support, and Hawes remembered the Soldiers taking cover behind a few boulders and passing weapons back and forth to take the best shots.
Cunningham soon realized Pfc. Brian J. Bradbury was missing. He was injured and laying about 20 meters away in a slight depression. Cunningham was closer and offered to get him, but Monti refused, saying Bradbury was his Soldier.
He handed his radio to Sgt. Chris J. Grzecki and said, "You are now Chaos three-five," his call sign, and ran toward Bradbury. The wood line erupted with intense fire aimed at Monti. He made it a few meters before he was pushed back behind a small stone wall where another Soldier lay dead. He ran out again, was pushed behind the wall again and then ran into fire a third time.
<b>Running into fire</b>
"Monti ran straight for Bradbury as we all provided covering fire," Hawes wrote to Monti's mother Janet. "I remember seeing Monti running and I was firing...as close as I dared.... Just as he was about to reach Bradbury, I ran out of ammo and as I dropped behind the rock to change magazines...I heard an RPG...explode. Monti's scream that he had been hit followed shortly after." Monti said he made his peace with God and asked someone to tell his parents he loved them before falling silent.
"It's not surprising in any way," said Cunningham. "I know he knew what he was going up against to help out his Soldier. I know he knew the consequences.... Ultimately, he knew he needed to get his guy."
Air support came a few minutes later and they finally pushed the insurgents back as darkness fell. The Soldiers spent an anxious night and after helicopters arrived to evacuate the dead the next morning, the patrol high-tailed it down the mountain.
<b>An unwanted honor</b>
Medals were the last thing on Cunningham and Hawes' minds (both men were later awarded Silver Stars and Grzecki and other Soldiers received the Bronze Star with Valor or the Army Commendation Medal with Valor), but when their commander said he was putting Monti in for the Medal of Honor, both men knew he deserved it.
And when the award finally came through and the president called Monti's father Paul, he called Cunningham with the overwhelming, bittersweet news.
"I have a tremendous feeling of pride," Paul Monti said. "But I still can't get over not having my son. I would give all of this up, all of it, everything, just to have him back, just to be able to hug him one more time."
Monti's family and friends agree that the award would have been the last thing he wanted. Monti was humble to a fault and most of his family didn't know he had received two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart on a previous deployment until his funeral because he believed each award represented the death of someone's son, father or husband.
"It's nothing you want," Hawes explained. "When you start getting into that level of award, especially the Silver Star and higher, it's sounds cool when you read about it in a book, but when you realize what it takes to earn it ... it really has to hit the fan and friends and stuff die, and that's not worth anything."
He would have wanted the medal to go to his men, Monti's mother said.
"To him it would represent every single Soldier, Marine, Sailor, whoever, whether they're still in Afghanistan or Iraq or home; whether they came home alive or in a casket; came home spiritually, emotionally or physically wounded.... This (award) is for all of them," Janet Monti said.
<b>Living on through his men</b>
Monti taught Hawes and Grzecki how to be NCOs and take care of their men, and Cunningham explained that he had the "luxury" of working with Monti's men. They loved him so much and emulated him to the extent that Cunningham felt like he was still working with Monti.
Hawes is now stationed at Fort Jackson, S.C., and has shared Monti's story with his holdover recruits, inspiring several to stay in the Army, so Monti's values, the Army values, continue on today.