FORT BENNING, Ga. -- More than a year removed from the enemy confrontations where they risked their lives for fellow servicemembers, four former 503rd Infantry Regiment Soldiers were honored for their bravery in combat Monday at the Benning Conference Center.
Staff Sgt. Justin Grimm received the Silver Star for gallantry, Staff Sgt. Clifton Anderson and Sgt. Michael Lawrence received the Bronze Star with V device, and Staff Sgt. Zachari Rushing received the Army Commendation Medal with V device.
Before pinning the medals, Maj. Gen. Michael Ferriter, Fort Benning commander, talked about how the Soldiers never wavered during the 15-month deployment, living in a very rugged, undeveloped and contested region in Afghanistan's Hindu Kush Mountains near the Pakistan border.
"Where you find the fight and you take the fight, you stand, and you don't give up an inch," he said. "That kind of endurance and courage only comes through training and discipline that starts long before the fight. That's the kind of dedication to duty that we see in out great NCOs."
Col. William Ostlund, the 75th Ranger Regiment's deputy commander, commanded 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, during the deployment. He said Grimm, Anderson and Lawrence, all part of the 503rd's 2nd Battalion, performed with valor through one hostile engagement after another, including what has become known as the Battle of Wanat, in which nine American Soldiers were killed in action and 27 wounded.
"(They) had a simple task - to deploy with honor and redeploy with honor. They did so like no others," Ostlund said of the 2nd Battalion, which earned three Medal of Honor nominations, one Distinguished Service Cross, 27 Silver Stars, 93 Bronze Stars and more than 300 Army Commendation Medals.
Grimm's team, while deployed with the 2nd Battalion's C Company, was attacked by an estimated 200 insurgents at Vehicle Patrol Base Wanat on July 13, 2008.
According to the Silver Star citation, the squad leader ran forward to prevent the enemy from overrunning the outpost. He manned a squad automatic weapon to suppress the enemy and bring relief to the beleaguered defenders. On numerous occasions, he left his covered position to render first aid to wounded Soldiers and help move them to safety. Despite a heavy volume of enemy fire impacting all around his position, he refused to abandon his post, detonating a mine and lobbing grenades into the enemy ranks, thwarting their advance and forcing them to retreat. During a lull in enemy fire, Grimm acted with complete disregard for his own personal safety, leaving his defensive position to emplace a claymore mine and deny the enemy a critical avenue of approach.
Grimm said the biggest honor was being in the company of those who fought the Battle of Wanat.
"To get an award is great, but in a lot of these tough fights, everybody out there deserves valor awards," said Grimm, who is currently with the 198th Infantry Brigade. "It's just that certain individuals get recognized. But I would say the greater honor was being able to be out there with Chosen Company."
Anderson and Lawrence led the defense of Seray Vehicle Patrol Base in Chowkay Valley June 23, 2008, during multiple enemy attacks.
According to Anderson's Bronze Star with V-device citation, his tactical acumen enabled his team to lay effective suppressive fire on concealed enemy positions, causing the enemy to break contact and preventing friendly casualties. With complete disregard for his own safety, he sprinted across open terrain through enemy fire on multiple occasions to coordinate his element's return fires.
Anderson, now an instructor with 6th Ranger Training Battalion, said the award is significant because the team didn't allow the shortage of manpower that day to prevent the team's proficient reaction.
"We handled that situation pretty well," Anderson said. "I'm glad that our events there got acknowledged. This award is pretty big for me."
According to Lawrence's Bronze Star with V-device citation, his tactical acumen enabled his team to lay effective suppressive fire on concealed enemy positions, causing the enemy to break contact during the early engagements and preventing friendly casualties. With complete disregard for his own safety, he sprinted across open terrain through enemy fire to coordinate the indirect fires, which ultimately stymied the final and most concerted attack on the vehicle patrol base.
Lawrence, now with Headquarters Company, 197th Infantry Brigade, said he appreciated the honor and recognized the cumulative effort.
"Not a lot of people know about the Chowkay Valley," he said. "It was a pretty hot place for a while, but it's due to the platoon that was out there fighting alongside one another that we had little to no casualties. They deserve it just as much as I do."
Rushing earned the Army Commendation Medal with V device while serving with the 503rd's 1st Battalion. According to his citation, following a catastrophic improvised explosive device strike in Charbaran District, the senior line medic's leadership and decision-making, while at risk for his own safety, were instrumental in saving the lives of three of his fellow Soldiers.
"It's great to be here and see people we know (recognized)," said Rushing, now with 6th Ranger Training Battalion. "I'm thankful we saved some lives."
The Soldiers are now serving in training units on Fort Benning where their knowledge will inspire the Army's newest combatants, Ferriter said.
"How appropriate that they are using their experience today to inspire and lead," he said. "We are an Army at war, and recognizing that we face many tough challenges ahead, we take this opportunity to applaud the kind of selfless sacrifice and courage that will lead this great Army to victory."