Fort Polk Soldier earns Silver Star for courage under fire
May 1, 2012
- Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk
- Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno
- Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno on Facebook
- Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno Army Live Blog
- Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno on Twitter
- Army.mil: Stories of Valor
- Army.mil: Army Values
- SLIDESHOW: Odierno presents Silver Star, observes training at Fort Polk
FORT POLK, La. (May 1, 2012) -- "A brave man acknowledges the strength of others" wrote Veronica Roth, American author.
If you ask the Soldiers that receive awards for valor about their actions, most will tell you it wasn't about courage. Often, they talk about the bravery of others, the bravery responsible for a positive outcome in combat situations. This is how Sgt. M. Joshua Laughery, with Devil Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, feels about the actions that earned him the Silver Star.
"It wasn't something I did by myself. I want to be able to tell the story of my guys, because I didn't earn it myself. The rest of the guys that day did all they could. I don't mean to downplay it, but we did what we had to do," Laughery said.
Laughery, who enlisted in the United States Army in 2003 after watching the invasion of Iraq on television, was recognized for his courage under fire during a Silver Star ceremony at Fort Polk May 1, where Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno pinned the third highest award for valor in combat on Laughery's chest.
"We honor Sergeant Laughery's bravery and sacrifice as a shining example of selfless service and personal courage. We are tremendously proud of him and we will live by his example as we prepare for our next mission," said Lt. Col. Paul E. Cunningham II, commander of 2nd Bn., 4th Inf. Regt., 4th BCT, 10th Mtn. Div.
Laughery demonstrated his bravery and courage on Sept. 12, 2011, toward the end of his tour. His platoon, the battalion's Counter Improvised Explosive Device Platoon, came under fire while conducting a battle damage assessment during a patrol in Mashin Kala Village in Wardak Province.
While under fire, the platoon cornered insurgent forces in an underground cellar complex consisting of several rooms. The platoon used smoke and fragmentation grenades to neutralize the enemy. The Soldiers entered the cellar opening to clear the rooms when an insurgent sprinted from the cellar and headed straight for the Soldiers, firing an AK-47 assault rifle at close range.
The insurgent collided with the platoon sergeant and deployed a grenade in an attempted suicide attack. The grenade detonated at close range to the platoon sergeant and senior team leader, wounding them and causing life-threatening injuries to the section sergeant and platoon medic.
Laughery, then a corporal, recognized that most of his platoon leadership was injured: His platoon leader, platoon sergeant, section sergeant, senior team leader and medic. Without orders, Laughery coordinated a casualty evacuation and asked for additional security from the company's quick reaction force.
Laughery ran from his truck to establish a casualty collection point, cleared a qualat (an Afghan building) above the cellar to ensure security was established and allow for treatment of his fellow Soldiers. But he didn't stop there.
He then grabbed a fellow Soldier and led the team into the dark cellar, in the direction of enemy fire, where he fought in a confined and dangerous environment, engaging and killing an insurgent three feet away. Laughery directed a Soldier to use an incendiary grenade in the cellar.
After the effects of the grenade subsided, Laughery again entered the cellar, with extreme disregard for his own life. He and his team engaged another insurgent while receiving automatic fire from less than 20 feet away. Finally the team killed the remaining insurgents and Laughery conducted evacuation of the wounded troops to Combat Outpost Sultan Kheyl, under threat of an identified enemy rocket propelled grenade team.
Laughery's platoon sergeant recalled that it was moving to watch a young corporal go from being a senior gunner, to a platoon sergeant, to a platoon leader in an instant, executing his job flawlessly.
The Soldiers later learned that the insurgents they just killed were responsible for an rocket-propelled grenade, or RPG, attack that killed one of their fellow Soldiers earlier in the deployment.
"There are Soldiers, your brothers-in-arms, alive here today because of your heroic acts of valor. Being able to attend events like this makes my job as the chief of staff of the Army so rewarding," Odierno said.
"He (Laughery) believes in taking care of his fellow Soldiers. War is a personal thing. It's about the person on your right or left, the person in front or behind you, it's about that inherent trust that you have in each other. It's about knowing that if you wear this uniform, there will always be someone there for you. You're there for each other, in all the way. Sergeant Laughery epitomizes that," Odierno said.
"He stepped up when we needed him, he stepped up under fire, he stepped up under chaos, during incredibly difficult times. That takes courage, that takes leadership, that takes something special inside someone that we don't know we have until we're actually involved in a situation like that," Odierno said.
While many Soldiers demonstrate courage and leadership, very few receive such a distinguished award. Odierno told Laughery, "The Silver Star you now wear is a badge of honor. In the past 10 years of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are only 650 Soldiers out of several million in the Army who have deployed and been awarded this prestigious badge of honor."
While receiving the Silver Star is an honor, Laughery said that having the Chief of Staff pin on the award is a memory that will never leave him.
"It's unbelievable. To have him here to talk to me and say I did something good is amazing. It's something I never thought would happen," Laughery said.
Laughery contributes the success of that day in September to his training.
"Seeing my guys down motivated me and the rest of my platoon to do what we needed to do to get everyone [home] safe," he said. "I have the best platoon sergeant I've ever worked with and a great platoon leader, section sergeants and team leaders. We all got along and we all worked well together," he said.
Soldiers from across the Army can take a valuable lesson from Laughery's actions, Odierno said, that boils down to trust.
"For us, it's about a culture, it's about having a sense of pride, that sense of trust with each other, trust between Soldiers; trust between Soldiers and leaders; trust between Soldiers, leaders, our families; and trust between our Army and the American people. There's nothing greater than that," Odierno said.
Despite his experiences, awards and recognition, Laughery remains humble.
"It was a group effort to bring everybody home safely," he said. "It was just another day."