BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan--Two Soldiers assigned as customs agents to the 401st Army Field Support Brigade were awarded Army Commendation Medals with the "V" device and Combat Action Badges in an awards ceremony at brigade headquarters Jul. 12. A third Soldier was awarded a Combat Action Badge.

The three Soldiers were involved in a complex enemy attack against Forward Operating Base Salerno in eastern Afghanistan on Jun. 1. Specialists David P. Clark, a White Plains, N. Y. native and Justin C. Ruiz, a Bronx, N. Y. native directly engaged insurgents while 1st Lt. Eric J. Leon, a Port Washington, N. Y. native, took action to secure the Army Materiel Command compound. The Soldiers are part of the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, a New York National Guard unit and assigned to the 401st for a nine-month tour.

At about 1 p.m. on Jun. 1, insurgents detonated a vehicle loaded with explosives near the post and insurgents tried to gain access. A firefight lasting about 30 minutes ensued with both Clark and Ruiz engaging the enemy.

Ruiz said he was driving a small utility vehicle that was flipped by the blast concussion.
"I was out cold," he said. "When I came to, I ran to my hooch and grabbed by gear and ammunition. I ran toward the noise and helped the unit pulling security."

The write-up for his award reads in part "Without thought for his own safety SPC Ruiz engaged the enemy with direct fire less than 75' away while receiving direct fire from automatic weapons, RPGs, and detonations stemming from enemy suicide vests. SPD Ruiz assisted other Soldiers as they successfully prevented insurgents from gaining a foothold on the base. His skills as an infantryman were vital to the successful defense of his base. The actions in combat clearly displayed skill and bravery."

Clark was conducting routine operations when the vehicle borne explosives detonated about 50 meters away from him. After getting his body armor and ammunition, he began checking buildings for insurgents and wounded.

"We secured the area until 2100," Clark said. He said that was so Explosive Ordnance Disposal could complete their work.

The write-up for his award reads in part ""Without thought for his own safety SPC Clark engaged the enemy with direct fire less than 75' away while receiving direct fire from automatic weapons, rocket propelled grenades and detonations stemming from enemy suicide vests. His team was able to successfully destroy the enemy preventing them from gaining a foothold on the base. SPC Clark's actions in combat and bravery were vital to the successful defense of the base."

"I never thought I would work in my MOS [military occupation specialty]," said Ruiz, an infantryman. "My NCOs helped me get to where I needed to be to perform. My MOS helped me"
"It was not to hesitate -- take care of each other," said Clark, a medical logistician. "We relied on our training and strong battle buddies."

Leon, redistribution property assistance officer-in-charge, said he was working when he heard and felt the blast and heard the direct fire from the insurgents.

"We rounded up the civilians and put them in MaxxPros [mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles]," he said. "Then we positioned other vehicles so no one could get into the AMC compound.
"I'm really proud of my Soldiers," Leon said. "Some went in the other direction."

"They [Clark and Ruiz] briefed me on their ammo abatement program when I visited Salerno and two weeks later they're in full battle rattle engaging the enemy," said Col. Michel M. Russell, 401st AFSB commander, at the awards ceremony.

"This is no small feat," Russell added. "I salute you."

Editor's note: In the Army, the "V" device is worn on an award solely to denote "participation in acts of heroism involving conflict with an armed enemy."