14 April 2008

Chosen Company Medic Awarded Bronze Star

Col. Charles Preysler, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team commander, pins a Bronze Star for valor on Army Sgt. Kyle S. Dirkintis, a medic attached for Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), April 1 on Forward Operating Base Fenty, Nangarhar province. U.S. Army photo by Maj. Nicholas Sternberg.

On August 22, 2007, the remote Ranch House Outpost near Aranis in Kunar province - defended by only 25 Soldiers led by 1LT Matthew Ferrara - came under a large, coordinated attack from a company-sized group of Taliban using machine guns, small arms and RPGs.

Some of the members of ASG, an Afghan security company, had fled their posts allowing roughly 20 insurgents to breach the outpost’s perimeter within minutes. Then the outpost's aid station and tactical operations center were hit.

“Post 4, post 3 and post 2 had all called in and said they had made contact,” said Dirkintis. “At that point in time, we sustained our first casualty in the fight. Our forward observer received some shrapnel to his face.”

Dirkintis treated the Soldier’s shrapnel wounds while insurgent fighters approached 40 meters south of his position.

“I exchanged weapons with him (for the Soldier’s M-4) and ran down to the TOC to let the guys know what was going on with the casualty. Rounds were skipping by me. I was seeing rocks explode everywhere. You could hear RPG after RPG exploding. I kept thinking is this really happening?”

As information of further casualties flooded in, Dirkintis and SSG Eric Phillips headed back out of the TOC. At one point they were pinned down for 15 minutes by heavy machine-gun and small arms fire. Unable to advance, both Soldiers took defensive positions and returned fire.

Soldiers manning a nearby post yelled down that insurgents were maneuvering around their position. Phillips threw hand grenades around one corner while Dirkintis wheeled around to fire down another corner.

“As soon as I kneeled and looked around the corner I took a shot to the chest,” said Dirkintis. “At first I didn’t know I had been shot. My vision had gotten real blurry. It was difficult to breathe. My entire body felt really, really numb.”

The force of bullet knocked Dirkintis to the ground and punctured a lung.

“I tried to crawl to all fours and to get up, but that’s when I started coughing up blood,” said Dirkintis.

The battle raged for another hour and a half. The Soldiers used hand grenades, claymore mines, small arms and heavy weapons to repel the attacking Taliban. A-10s were called in to provide close air support. By the end of the fighting, 11 of 25 Soldiers defending Ranch House Outpost had suffered injuries.

Against doctors advice, Dirkintis returned to Afghanistan after recovering from his injuries and now works in the pharmacy on Forward Operating Base Fenty, Nangarhar province.

1LT Ferrara will be awarded the Silver Star for his actions on August 22, 2007 at a ceremony planned for September at West Point. He, four other Soldiers of Chosen Company who participated in this fight, and a Marine were later killed in an ambush on 9 November, 2007 while returning from a meeting with a local elders council.

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