By Rich LamanceJanuary 4, 2008
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Army News Service, Jan. 4, 2008) -- For both players and Soldier-heroes participating in this weekend's "All-American" Bowl high school all-star football classic, the traits of leadership, discipline and teamwork are trademarks of what they do and what they've become.
For three Soldier-heroes celebrating this year's contest, their litmus test was on the same battlefield as part of the same squad under conditions that transformed years of training and preparation into survival for them as well as their unit.
Capt. Sean McQuade, Sgt. 1st Class Christian Bryant and Sgt. Jose Rivas were members of 2nd Platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, who received the Silver Star for their actions last April in Afghanistan.
According to Capt. McQuade, then the 2nd Platoon leader, now Charlie Company commander, the mission began in the Spring of 2007 when two Afghan army soldiers were killed by improvised explosive devices when the insurgency emerged from hiding after being dormant for most of the winter.
"Two days after the IED attacks we decided to do a patrol of the local area," explained Capt. McQuade. "We searched for caches of weapons and looked for enemy activity. It took us about five and a half hours to get to the village and about 5:30 in the morning our lead element entered the village.
"One of the villagers on the high road, who didn't have a weapon at the time, ran about 100 yards, then dodged to the side of the road and pulled out a weapon and started firing on our patrol. We returned the fire, set up a cordon search of the area and began what turned out to be a 17-hour firefight." According to Capt. McQuade, there were originally about 40 insurgents in the fight, later ballooning to more than 100 before the day would end.
Sgt. Rivas, the team's senior medic during the battle, said that his and his team's training, along with having the confidence as a team to trust the other Soldiers on the team, was the reason "I didn't worry about having my back covered. From the time I reached our first casualty to the time I got them to the critical care point, I knew my fellow Soldiers were taking care of me.
"I heard my Soldiers shout, and I realized how close the rounds were coming to us - it seemed that there was a constant snapping on the ground next to us. A couple inches closer and we would have had a lot more injuries."
Capt. McQuade agreed that at times the fighting was intense. "My RTO was standing right next to me and the rounds were hitting in between us. We had initial fire, then a lull for a couple of hours, then the re-supply came in and was hit, then all hell broke loose.
"I remember on one occasion, we were running through this one door, when there was a sniper on a mountainside. He would continuously hit that door and go right over our Soldiers. It was comical at times, but also very dangerous."
All three Soldier-heroes agree that, while fighting in Iraq is at closer quarters, the Soldiers in Afghanistan face much more experienced fighters. "The enemy here is very smart and experienced," said Capt. McQuade. "They think like we think. Some of the videos we've recovered show they do op orders and rehearsals, a lot of the same things modern militaries do."
According to Sgt. 1st Class Bryant, a platoon sergeant with C Company, the end came as a result of darkness, superior technology and vital air support. "We had a lot of air support throughout the day - Apaches, A-10, B-1's trying to dislodge the enemy. But the end came when our technological advances came into play. Our AC 130s, after dark, were able to pick out the friendly from the enemy. We found out the next day that we killed one of their leaders."
All three teammates agree that when all was said and done it was a combination of each Soldier knowing his job well and relying on each other when it counted the most. Capt. McQuade feels that those players who take the field on Saturday share a lot of those same traits. "These players are the best at what they do, and they're very aware of what's going on. They're more informed about what's going on in the world than I ever did at that age."
(Rich Lamance is a writer and editor for the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service.)