FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska (Army News Service, Dec. 13, 2007) - A 1st Stryker Brigade Soldier who saved the life of his platoon leader was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross Dec. 12 at Fort Wainwright for his actions during an ambush in Iraq.
Sgt. Gregory Williams received the Army's second-highest award for valor from Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. for what he did in a gun battle that ensued after an improved explosives device stopped his Stryker last year in Baghdad.
Although injured himself, Sgt. Williams pulled his lieutenant from a smoldering Stryker, provided suppressive fire with a 50-caliber weapon and enabled first aid to be given to Soldiers burned by the IED blast. He was a squad leader in Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1/5th Infantry, 1st SBCT, 25th Infantry Division.
"When I want to talk about the quality of the force, I talk about Sgt. Williams," said Gen. Casey. "(Soldiers like Sgt. Williams) are the heart and soul of the Army."
During a mounted night patrol Oct. 30, 2006, in Baghdad's Huriyah neighborhood, Sgt. Williams' Stryker was struck by shaped charges that sent a stream of molten fire through the hull of the vehicle.
"It was like someone took a can opener and peeled it (the Stryker) open," Sgt. Williams said.
As the Stryker and its occupants caught fire, enemy forces unleashed an ambush of rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 rounds. While the vehicle was still in motion, the Soldiers dismounted from the back ramp, found cover and returned fire.
Sgt. Williams, a Valley Spring, Calif. native, was unconscious for a few seconds after the blast, recovered and put the flames out on himself and other Soldiers around him before grabbing a first aid bag to treat his comrades.
But Sgt. Williams realized that the Soldiers were in greater need of suppressive fire, so he expended 120 rounds - four magazines - of ammunition from his M4 carbine upon the enemy.
After helping provide suppressive fire, he saw his platoon leader, 1st. Lt. Aaron Willard, from York Springs, Penn., inside the smoldering Stryker. Lt. Willard's legs were burned and lacerated from shrapnel, and he had just finished his third magazine engaging the enemy when he began to pass out from blood loss.
"My ears started ringing and I started to see a white light in front of my eyes," Lt. Willard said. "Sgt. Williams grabbed me and threw me towards the back of the vehicle."
Lt. Willard then remembered waking up on the ramp and the medic treating his wounds.
Spc. Matthew Driscoll, a gunner in HHC, 1-5th, was one of the Soldiers trapped by enemy fire and recalls how Sgt. Williams established fire superiority.
"We didn't have any cover because we were taking fire from our 12 o'clock," Spc. Driscoll said. "So Sgt. Williams jumped into the (.50-caliber M2 machine gun) spot and started unloading."
A rifle round went past Sgt. Williams' head and hit the hatch before he expended 100 rounds into the enemy's position. He paused for a moment before two more rounds hit the hatch. Sgt. Williams then fired another 200 rounds before the weapon jammed and B Company, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 172nd SBCT, (now 1-5th, 1-25th SBCT) arrived to provide security.
"That (Sgt. Williams' suppressive fire) was the turning point of the firefight," Lt. Willard said. "If no one got on the 50 cal., there would've been more casualties."
When the medic pulled Sgt. Williams down to assess his injuries, Sgt. Williams found that he couldn't hear and everything felt like it was spinning. He had minor burns and two punctured eardrums that needed surgery.
Willard, who is now a captain in the Warrior Transition Unit, a unit that oversees the health and welfare of Soldiers receiving medical care, credits Sgt. Williams as the person who, in the heat of the moment, "recognized when to get on the 50 cal. and start shooting."
"I think it was a great honor to receive this award, I'm very proud to receive it," Sgt. Williams said. "But I was just doing my job and what I was trained to do."
Sgt. Williams believes that everyone in his squad would have done the same thing that day, and credits them as heroes in their own right.
(Spc. Vincent Fusco serves with the 20th PAD.)