By Megan Locke Simpson, Fort Campbell CourierApril 12, 2012
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (April 12, 2012) -- A humble 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Soldier received the nation's second-highest military honor in a ceremony today at McAuliffe Hall.
Sgt. Felipe Pereira is the first "Screaming Eagle" to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross since Vietnam. The A Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, squad leader earned the recognition for what the official citation calls "distinguished service and heroism" during a firefight in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Nov. 1, 2010.
"It's a great honor to represent the division," said Pereira. "It's real nice to be able to represent the 101st and show the caliber of Soldiers that we actually have here."
The 28-year-old Brazilian immigrant was joined by his wife, mother and father, as well as other family members during the presentation from Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno at division headquarters.
"I've always had this kind of fighting thing in me," Pereira explained of why he joined the Army. "I wanted to see combat, I really did."
Odierno recognized Pereira for his "extraordinary actions in the face of adversity."
"We are all here because your actions distinguish you as a hero," Odierno said to Pereira. "The reality is, there are people alive today because of those actions."
"In that defining moment, Sergeant Pereira's actions will be forever etched in our nation's history. His actions were in keeping with the highest ideals of the warrior ethos, ignoring his own safety, forgetting his own pain, he defied the blizzard of gunfire blazing through the smoke, the bullets and the chaos to help his fellow Soldiers in their time of need."
After joining the service in March 2009, Pereira soon deployed to Afghanistan's Zhari District in May 2010.
During a dismounted patrol that November, an improvised explosive device detonated, killing two Soldiers in Pereira's squad. According to the citation, Pereira sustained shrapnel wounds and his lung began to collapse. With an ambush from the enemy underway, "with little regard for his own safety or care" Pereira drove an all-terrain vehicle into enemy fire to help evacuate wounded Soldiers.
After moving the first set of casualties, Pereira went back into the line of fire once more to help others.
Pereira, a specialist at the time, "is credited with saving the lives of two of his fellow Soldiers, while risking his own [on] multiple occasions. Only after all of the wounded Soldiers had been evacuated and were receiving medical care, did he accept treatment himself," according to the citation.
"Everything kind of started like just a regular patrol until pretty much the very end of it when everything just went haywire," Pereira remembered.
Even while being recognized above and beyond for his heroic efforts for his actions during his first deployment, Pereira feels more than ever that he was only doing what he signed up to do.
"To be honest with you, it just felt like a normal day, doing my job," he said. "Obviously, yes, it was a hectic situation, it was extreme situation and everything, but it doesn't feel any different than something we should have done. I keep saying had I not done it, somebody else probably would have, and the job would have gotten done the same way."
If anybody was a hero that day, the awardee feels the true honor goes to the two Soldiers, Pfc. Andrew N. Meari and Spc. Jonathan M. Curtis, who lost their lives.
"Every time I have the opportunity, I always say remember those that gave the ultimate sacrifice," he said. "I still get to come back and enjoy barbecues with my family and their love and everything. Those guys, they really gave it all. Those are truly the heroes. Just remember those guys. I think even on a happy occasion like this, I think we need to celebrate their life and their sacrifice."
Pereira's experiences are not only valuable as an example to his fellow Soldiers, but provide guidance for even the small battles of everyday life.
"If you actually stop and think, that's when you start panicking because you don't know what to do," he said. "The key is to keep moving, and hope the decisions you're making are the best decisions that can be made."
The Distinguished Service Cross is awarded to a person in the service of the Army who exhibits extraordinary heroism while engaged in action against a U.S. enemy. The person must be engaged in military operations of some type and the act(s) of heroism must have been so notable and involving extraordinary risk of life as to set the person apart from others.
Pereira joins 164 other Screaming Eagle Soldiers to receive the Distinguished Service Cross.