By Sgt. Rick FahrAugust 13, 2007
FORT CHAFFEE MANEUVER TRAINING CENTER, Ark. (Army News Service, Aug. 13, 2007) - Capt. John F. Vanlandingham's mission for Operation Iraqi Freedom was to train Iraqi National Guard troops to defend their country.
When insurgents attacked the convoy he and his comrades were traveling in, Capt. Vanlandingham ignored his own personal safety to save the lives of several ING troops by venturing numerous times into the kill zone to help them escape.
For his "never leave a troop on the battlefield" attitude, the captain received the Silver Star during an Aug. 12 ceremony here.
"The Iraqis, to me, were like American Soldiers," he said. "We put the effort and countless hours into training them. We had the duty to help them as much as we would have a fellow American."
A member of the 1st Battalion, 206th Field Artillery Regiment, 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Capt. Vanlandingham was serving as an ING advisor when he led a convoy of about 50 ING troops from an oil refinery back to a U.S. post north of Taji, Iraq, on Nov. 14, 2004.
A delay in the convoy's movement gave insurgents the chance to prepare for an ambush.
"An improvised explosive device went off two vehicles behind me," the captain noted, explaining how the ambush began.
Nearly two-dozen Iraqi troops were in each of the vehicles, which did not have protective armor.
Seconds after the first bomb exploded, another IED detonated near the vehicles, and several insurgents began attacking with small arms.
Capt. Vanlandingham's vehicle, the convoy lead, escaped the ambush and moved to safety, but he and troops with him immediately realized that the Iraqi soldiers were caught in the attack.
"I was the only cadre there who was in charge of the Iraqis, so we turned around and went back," he said of his decision to return to the fight.
The captain directed American forces to suppress the enemy fire as he made his way into a ditch and back toward the Iraqi troops. He retrieved several wounded and at least one dead Iraqi soldier along with several weapons. The Iraqi troops suffered severe injuries, and without quick medical attention, they would likely have died.
After accounting for all troops, Capt. Vanlandingham reorganized the convoy, leading the way back to post to secure medical treatment for the wounded.
At the award ceremony, Brig. Gen. Richard Swan praised the captain's actions.
"Without a doubt you have proven that you are a Soldier and a Warrior. God bless you," he commented.
A letter penned by Maj. Gen. William Wofford, adjutant general of Arkansas, honored the Soldier's "dynamic leadership."
"Your discipline and professionalism serve as an example to your peers and have earned for you the respect of your superiors. You are a fine asset to the Arkansas Army National Guard," the adjutant general wrote.
Despite the kind words, Capt. Vanlandingham downplayed his "hero" status.
"I really appreciate what the people have done to give me this award," he said. "I'm no hero. I just did what I had to do that day to survive and to have my fellow Soldiers survive."
(Sgt. Rick Fahr writes for the 119th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)