A 5th Special Forces Group soldier received the Army's third-highest valor award during a ceremony June 12 for his actions in a January 2002 raid on a suspected al Qaeda stronghold in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Master Sgt. Anthony S. Pryor, a team sergeant with Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th SFG, received the Silver Star Medal for his gallantry in combat during the raid when he single-handedly eliminated four enemy soldiers, including one in unarmed combat, all while under intense automatic weapons fire and with a crippling injury.
"Receiving this award is overwhelming, but... this isn't a story about one guy," Pryor said of the events that led to his Silver Star. "It's a story about the whole company instead of an award on the chest. If the guys hadn't done what they were supposed to do, (the mission) would've been a huge failure."
"I just did what I had to do," he continued, recalling his hand-to-hand struggle against the suspected terrorists. "It wasn't a heroic act - it was second-nature. I won, and I moved forward."
During the ceremony, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey C. Lambert, commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Forces Command, said that Pryor was a perfect example of the Special Forces mentality.
"About a year ago ... I said to Tony, 'what did you think when that fellow knocked your night-vision goggles off, pulled your arm out of its socket and was twisting it, all while you were fighting with your other hand''" Lambert said. "And (Pryor) said, 'it's show time.' He must have meant what he said, because he earned that Silver Star. Think about a cold, black night; think about fighting four guys at the same time, and somebody jumps on your back and starts beating you with a board. Think about the problems you'd have to solve - and he did."
"This is the singular hand-to-hand combat story that I have heard from this war," Lambert added. "When it came time to play, he played, and he did it right."
On Jan. 23, 2002, Pryor's company received an order from the U.S. Central Command to conduct their fourth combat mission of the war - a sensitive site exploitation of two compounds suspected of harboring Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Because of the presence of women and children within the compounds, Pryor said aerial bombardment was not considered an option. Once on the ground, the company was to search for key leadership, communications equipment, maps and other intelligence.
Sgt. 1st Class Scott Neil was one of the team members there with Pryor that night at the second compound. A Special Forces weapons sergeant, he fought on Pryor's team as a cell leader and found himself momentarily pinned down by the sudden hail of bullets after the team's position was compromised.
"After the initial burst of automatic weapons fire, we returned fire in the breezeway," Neil said. "It was a mental spur - after we heard the words 'let's go,' everything just kind of kicked in."
Moments later, though, the team became separated in the confusion, but with the situation desperate for the Special Forces soldiers against a determined and larger-than-expected enemy, Pryor and one of his teammates kept moving forward, room to room. They began to enter a room together, but another enemy soldier outside the room distracted the team member, so he stayed outside to return fire.
Pryor first encountered an enemy that was charging out of the room and assisted in eliminating him. Then, without hesitation, Pryor moved ahead into the room and found himself alone with three more enemy soldiers.
According to Pryor, the next two enemies he saw were firing their weapons out of the back of the room at his men that were still outside the compound.
"I went in, and there were some windows that they were trying to get their guns out of to shoot at our guys that hadn't caught up yet," he said. "So I went from left to right, indexed down and shot those guys up. I realized that I was well into halfway through my magazine, so I started to change magazines. Then I felt something behind me, and thought it was (one of my teammates) - that's when things started going downhill."
Pryor said it was an enemy soldier, a larger-than-normal Afghan, who had snuck up on him.
"There was a guy back behind me, and he whopped me on the shoulder with something, and crumpled me down."
Pryor would later learn that he had sustained a broken clavicle and a dislocated shoulder during the attack.
"Then he jumped up on my back, broke my night-vision goggles off and starting getting his fingers in my eyeballs. I pulled him over, and when I hit down on the ground, it popped my shoulder back in."
Pryor said that after he stood up, he was face to face with his attacker. Pryor eliminated the man during their hand-to-hand struggle.
Pryor had now put down all four enemies, but the fight wasn't over yet.
"I was trying to feel around in the dark for my night-vision goggles, and that's when the guys I'd already killed decided that they weren't dead yet."
Pryor said that it was then a race to see who could get their weapons up first, and the enemy soldiers lost. He then left the room and rejoined the firefight outside. When the battle ended, 21 enemy soldiers had been killed. There were no American causalities, and Pryor had been the only soldier injured.
"Tony is getting a Silver Star because he entered a room by himself, and he engaged the enemy by himself," said Sgt. 1st Class James Hogg, a Special Forces medical sergeant on Pryor's team. "He elevated his pure soldier instinct and went to the next level, and that's what this award is recognizing. He didn't stop after his initial battle, and continued to lead."
Leading his soldiers, despite his injuries, is something Neil said that Pryor couldn't seem to stop doing.
"As soon as he left that room, he came running up to me and wanted to know if everybody was okay," Neil said, describing Pryor after he had emerged from his four-on-one fight. "He never mentioned anything about what went on ... and during the whole objective and as the firefight continued, he never stopped. He was always mission-first, and that's what his Silver Star is all about."
Pryor is the third Special Forces soldier to receive the Silver Star Medal for actions during Operation Enduring Freedom. The other two, Master Sgt. Jefferson Davis and Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Petithory, also of the 5th SFG (Abn.), received theirs posthumously.