VICENZA, Italy - In the early morning hours of July 13, 2008, Soldiers from Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment were not thinking about medals as they fought off roughly 200 insurgents attacking their vehicle patrol base in Afghanistan.
No Soldier in combat does.
The Army, however, takes pause afterward to honor those who distinguish themselves in battle and recognizes them before their peers.
Six Soldiers from 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company received medals of valor for combat actions that morning in Wanat, a village in northeast Afghanistan. Nine of their comrades lost their lives during the fight.
Maj. Gen. William B. Garrett III, commander of U.S. Army Africa, presented medals to the Soldiers during a March 20 ceremony held at Caserma Ederle.
Receiving the Silver Star was bittersweet, said Spc. Jeffrey Scantlin, 24, of Anchorage, Alaska.
"It's a big deal. But brings back a lot of memories of people who should be here, but aren't," Scantlin said. "For me the medal is more of a group achievement, something I wear to remind me of those who didn't come back."
The Silver Star Medal was also presented to Sgt. 1st Class Erich Phillips and Sgt. John Hayes. Bronze Star Medals with "V" device for valor were awarded to 1st Lt. Aaron Thurman, Sgt. Hector Chavez and Spc. Tyler Hanson.
As the ceremony began, the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team stood silent to remember those who died. Then, Garrett spoke about the bravery Soldiers displayed during the battle.
"Their courage under fire, valor, and loyalty to each other was absolutely astounding," Garrett said.
The platoon was near the end of a long deployment to Afghanistan, enduring many firefights along the way. Yet, when faced with enemy fire near Wanat, outnumbered and in some cases wounded, these paratroopers fought desperately for each other, overcoming fear and willingly risking their lives to save others.
"Incredible acts of courage and valor were commonplace on the battlefield that day," Garrett said. "Today, we recognize these six Soldiers for their courage - and we are thankful for the opportunity to serve with such men."
Garrett stepped forward and orders were read detailing each of their actions. The six paratroopers paused for photos, the bright ribbons and shining stars standing out against their gray digital fatigues.
In that quiet moment, each Soldier felt mixed emotions. Rows of paratroopers in maroon berets stood before them -many who have their own combat experiences from Afghanistan.
Scantlin, like most of those awarded, knew they had been put in for a medal. Some knew that same day. But it meant little to them at the time, still reeling from the combat they had endured.
"We just lost nine guys - everyone was still in shock, it was surreal. It still is," Scantlin said. "The guys that died there were my friends."