DRAPER, Utah (Army News Service, Jun. 23, 2008) -- "Bittersweet."
That's how 1st Lt. Tyler J. Jensen, 19th Special Forces Group, summed up his feelings June 19 about receiving the first Silver Star awarded to a member of the Utah National Guard in decades.
"In many ways it's a wonderful honor, but in others it's really hard," said Jensen at the ceremony. "So many of my fallen friends and Soldiers are not here."
One of those friends and Soldiers absent was 2nd Lt. Scott B. Lundell, who served with Jensen in Afghanistan. Lundell died in a firefight with enemy forces in November 2006.
Jensen, Lundell and another officer, Capt. Chad A. Pledger, all deployed together to Afghanistan in 2006-2007 with the Utah Guard's I Corps Artillery to be trainers and mentors to members of the Afghan National Army.
On Jan. 27, 2007, Jensen was on a combat reconnaissance patrol when his unit was ambushed by an estimated 100 enemy forces in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan. In the confusion, the Afghanis in the patrol were cut off from nearly all their American counterparts and the frightened Afghani officer in charge fled.
Instinctively filling the void, Jensen stepped in, took charge and led the patrol under enemy fire to rejoin the Americans. Then when another U.S. Soldier took a small-arms round in the leg, Jensen risked his own personal safety to rescue him.
"First Lieutenant Jensen repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to save a fellow Soldier who was wounded," reads the award citation. "His courage, superlative combat skills and tactical leadership under overwhelming direct enemy fire were instrumental in preventing the enemy from overrunning his patrol."
Army regulations say the Silver Star is awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force, or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in armed conflict against an opposing armed force. The decoration is the third-highest medal for valor, after the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross.
It is the first Silver Star awarded to a member of the Utah National Guard in recent memory, to include Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Desert Storm.
In the front row at the ceremony was Jensen's friend, Pledger. But he was not there as an observer; rather, he was also to be decorated, receiving the Bronze Star with "V" device for "exceptional gallantry and valor in the face of a determined enemy" for his actions Nov. 26, 2006.
As described on the certificate signed by Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, "Pledger's temerity and skill resulted in an effective counterattack against an entrenched enemy ambush that not only saved the lives of numerous . . . Soldiers, but also enabled the recovery of a U.S. casualty."
Ironically, that casualty was Pledger and Jensen's buddy Lundell. His widow, Jeanine, a close friend of Jensen and Pledger's wives, was on hand to see Utah Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., pin the awards on her husband's best friends.
Each speaker at the ceremony spoke tenderly of Lundell and his wife Jeanine, as well as the sacrifice of family members when their Soldiers answer their Nation's call.
"It's [for] all the Lundells out there who have served respectably and honorably," said Pledger, modestly acknowledging his decoration for valor. "[It's for] all the ones who keep our Nation secure."
Huntsman, who happened to be in Afghanistan visiting Utah Soldiers when Lundell was killed, spoke of the memorial service he attended near Kabul to pay tribute to the fallen Soldier as "my most memorable event as governor."
"It is totally inadequate for [me] to stand up here after what we have just seen," Huntsman continued. "It's pretty cool to be a governor, but it's exceedingly cool to be able to pin on a Silver Star and a Bronze Star with Valor, knowing what that represents."
In his remarks, Utah National Guard adjutant general Maj. Gen. Brian L. Tarbet praised Jensen and Pledger for their courage.
"You are quiet, unassuming young men," said Tarbet. "Oh, how remarkable you are! And how you grace the uniform makes us all proud."
And to Jensen and Pledger's wives he added, "You are extraordinary examples to all of us. Jeanine Lundell is cut from the same cloth as you. She has the heart of the lion and is an extraordinary woman."
"Many go without recognition for their heroism," concluded Jensen in his comments during the ceremony. "To my wife, you are truly my hero. And to every wife or husband who has stayed back here defending the home flag, you are my hero."
"With such great heroes in my life," he added, "I would be completely ungrateful if I didn't serve."