Task Force Bragg commander presents Distinguished Service Cross to Soldier for combat heroics
January 28, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Surrounded by civic leaders, comrades, veterans and relatives, and more than three years after his heroics in Afghanistan's Hindu Kush mountains, a Mooresville, N.C., paratrooper was presented on Jan. 22, with the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second highest award for valor.
"Many talk about being in the company of heroes - today, we are truly in their company, and today we celebrate and recognize one of our very best - Staff Sergeant James M. Takes," said Col. William Ostlund, who commanded Takes' battalion, the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, during that deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The battalion is known as the Rock Battalion.
Standing with Ostlund, Maj. Gen. Rodney O. Anderson, the commanding general of Task Force Bragg, pinned the medal on Takes.
"This is a big deal. This is a really big deal, so let me just say: All the way, Army strong, America strong," said Anderson, who, as the 82nd Airborne Division's deputy commanding general for support, deployed with the division's command group as the command group for Joint Task Force-82 in Afghanistan.
"We are blessed to live in a nation where we enjoy many freedoms," Anderson said. "There is no debate that there are those in the world who seek to do us harm."
"Between our freedoms and those who wish us harm are the men and women who volunteer to serve in the military," he said. "They serve and they stand in the gap protecting our property, protecting our Families and protecting future generations' ability to live our way of life," Anderson said.
"I remember the majority of it and I am glad I do. It was the pivotal moment in my life," Takes said. "Some people might want to put it away and get rid of it and put those feelings and those memories behind them.
"But, I embrace those moments, they changed my life," Take added. "When you think about the guys who paid the sacrifice that day, I don't want to forget them or their memories or their actions or anything that they had done. They are my people and I don't want to forget any part of them."
Maj. Matthew R. Myers, who was the Chosen commander, said the attack came Nov. 9, 2007 as the 30-Soldier column, which included squad of Soldiers of the Afghanistan National army, moved on foot from a key leader engagement in the village of Aranas.
"They were returning from that mission after they had stayed at the village overnight," Myers said. The troopers traveled by foot because the area was inaccessible to vehicles.
Myers, who was awarded the Silver Star, said he was in the company command post at Camp Blessing when the ambush started and he then organized and led the movement to support and relieve his men.
With the command, "Follow me!" Takes ordered his men to seek cover on a slope below the road and it was during this movement that the squad automatic weapon gunner tumbled down the hill losing both his weapon and helmet, he said.
Before he went down to check on the saw gunner, Takes had already been temporarily knocked unconscious from a rocket-propelled grenade blast and a gunshot wound to the arm, he said.
Takes, who gave his own helmet to the gunner, said he was hit the other arm at the bottom of the slope.
When he was hit the second time, Takes said he was applying a combat tourniquet to the gunner's leg with his left arm and firing his M-4 with his right arm.
The gunner tells it the best, he said. "He said he was looking up at me from the ground and saw it go through and I kinda jumped a little bit. He said I got a really upset look on my face like I was mad. He said, 'Man, that really had to hurt.'"
As the bullet struck, Takes said he said to himself, "I am really tired of getting shot at."
Just before the ambush, Takes said he and the other squad leader had stopped to discuss the terrain they were about to enter.
"You could not have asked for a better place to set up an ambush," he said. The unit the Rock Battalion had replaced had also been ambushed in almost the same place. "It was called 'Ambush Alley.' We all knew it was coming. We had an odd feeling. The night before, nobody wanted to go out on this mission. We just knew."
Although he was wounded, Takes stayed in Afghanistan and returned to duty after a brief hospital stay. It was not until January 2008, that he was reunited with his mother. "He was in the hospital for one week and then went back to the field," said Cindy M. Anderson, Takes' mother.
Anderson said she refused to watch the news one month before he left. "But, I had a sense from the time he left for Afghanistan to the time he came home that he was in a very dangerous place, and so - I just prayed, and prayed and prayed."
The reunion was at the airport in Charlotte, N.C. Cindy Anderson said.
"I really did not say anything. I just gave him a big old hug," she said. "It was so nice just to see him and touch his face."
Ralph T. Degenhart said he drove from nearby Troutman, N.C., to attend the ceremony for Takes. "I am here to pay tribute to a hero in his hometown."
Degenhart, a combat veteran of Vietnam and Cambodia with the 1st Cavalry Division, said Takes is a true hero. "Hearing what he did reminds me of the courageous acts that I witnessed when I was in combat."
After the ceremony, Anderson said the troopers from the battalion had the mission of creating enough security for the people in their area of operations, so that they did not feel threatened, and to convince them that developments, such as roads, schools and civil governance offer them a better future.
"It was an austere area with challenging terrain," Anderson said. "But, the Rock Soldiers did their job and performed their duties very well."