By STEVE REEVES, Fort Jackson LeaderNovember 5, 2009
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- John Hawes remembers with vivid clarity the hail of gunfire and rocket propelled grenades that rained down on his position on a ridgeline in Gowardesh, Nuristan Province, in northeastern Afghanistan.
"The fire was so intense," said Hawes, who at the time was in the 10th Mountain Division. "We were in danger of being overrun."
Hawes, now a staff sergeant with Fort Jackson's 4th Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment, would earn the Silver Star for his actions that day, June 21, 2006. Four others paid the ultimate price, including Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti, who died trying to save the life of another Soldier and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
"Sergeant Monti was the epitome of a leader," Hawes said. "He always put the Soldiers first. He gave his life for other Soldiers."
President Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Monti's parents at a ceremony at the White House Sept. 17.
Hawes was there also.
"Sergeant Monti deserved it," Hawes said. "He was worthy of getting the Medal of Honor."
Hawes was one of 16 members of a reconnaissance patrol sent to the remote ridgeline three days in advance of a planned air assault mission. Hawes and his fellow Soldiers, made up of snipers and recon specialists, were to provide security once the assault began in the valley below.
"We went in covertly," Hawes said. "The enemy didn't know we were there."
But the air assault mission was postponed at the last minute. Running low on food and water, the Soldiers called for a resupply. The arrival of the resupply helicopter was welcome, but gave away the Soldiers' position.
One of the team's medics noticed they were being watched closely by a local farmer.
"Your typical farmer in Afghanistan doesn't have a pair of binoculars," Hawes said. "This one did."
As darkness approached, the Soldiers prepared for the attack they were certain was coming. They didn't have to wait very long.
"All of a sudden, massive RPG and machine gun fire poured down on us," Hawes said. "There were 45 to 60 of the enemy and only 16 of us."
In the ensuing close-quarters combat, Hawes fired back with his pistol and threw a grenade.
"They were so close we could hear them talking to each other," Hawes said. "We couldn't overcome their fire superiority."
Within minutes, one Soldier was killed and two others wounded.
One of the wounded was a young private first class named Brian Bradbury. He was severely wounded and lying in the open, exposed to more fire from the fast approaching enemy.
"Monti said, 'I'm going for him,'" Hawes recalled. Hawes and other Soldiers laid down suppressive fire as Monti ran toward Bradbury, exposing himself to the enemy.
"He ran into just a wall of RPG and machine gun fire," Hawes said.
Monti's first attempt to reach Bradbury failed, as did his second. On Monti's final try, Hawes fired the team's last M-203 40mm grenade round at the nearest enemy position, a mere 10 meters from Bradbury.
This time, Monti was able to reach Bradbury as Hawes and others then unleashed a hail of bullets from their M-4s.
As Hawes ran out of ammo and fed a new magazine into his M-4, he heard the scream of an incoming RPG round. The explosion killed Monti.
But the battle still raged on. Not long after Monti's death, artillery rounds, which he had called for on the radio, began pounding the enemy positions. A bomb dropped from an aircraft at "danger-close" range to the Soldiers killed many of the enemy and dispersed the rest.
During a medical evacuation shortly after the battle ended, Bradbury and a medic, Staff Sgt. Heath Craig, were killed when a cable snapped as they were being hoisted into a helicopter hovering overhead.
Hawes, now a Combat Applications Training Course instructor at Fort Jackson, said he's never forgotten the leadership lessons he learned from Monti or the bravery he displayed under fire.
"He made not one but three attempts to save Private Bradbury," Hawes said. "He knew exposing himself meant almost certain death."
Hawes is quick to downplay any hint of heroism on his part that day.
"I was just doing what I was trained to do," he said. "You fight for each other over there. Nothing else matters."