14 July 2008

Twelve 173rd ABCT paratroopers receive valor awards

U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, poses for a group photo with award recipients from the 503rd Infantry Regiment, Korengal Outpost, Afghanistan, July 11, 2008. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

At a ceremony at the Korengal Valley combat outpost Admiral Mullen presented five Army Commendation Medals with valor devices, five Purple Heart Medals, one Bronze Star with valor device, and one Silver Star to the paratroopers of the 2-503rd PIR, 173rd ABCT.

Silver Star recipient CPT Greg Ambrosia and XO of Company A describes an encounter with Taliban fighters on the night of September 27, 2007 at a makeshift outpost after a nighttime air assault.

The troopers made contact with the enemy early the next morning, receiving a hail of rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire. But they couldn’t spot where exactly the attack was coming from, he said. ...

“We spotted an enemy scout and eventually made contact, but he was able to [disengage and communicate] our location to other fighters in the valley,” Ambrosia said.

Ambrosia’s element had a translator monitoring the enemy communication with a basic one-way radio. After the initial contact, it was quiet for about 45 minutes. The interpreter continued to monitor the radio, and Ambrosia learned that the scout was coordinating with other enemy fighters in the area to launch an attack, he explained.

Soon there were at least three enemy elements with three to five fighters each closing in on the platoon. So close, in fact, they were in hand-grenade range of his troops, he said.

“They were able to get to really close using the terrain,” he continued. “At one point, I started calling the vehicles in the valley to start shooting on our position, because the enemy was too close to call in artillery or mortar fire.”

“So we ended up having our guys shooting on our own position,” he continued.

Even though Ambrosia and his men maintained some safety behind a mound of rocks, the smoke from the mounted vehicle engulfed their position. He began call for aerial support from AH-64 Apache helicopters, he said.

Enemy radio traffic intercepted by Ambrosia’s interpreter let the paratroopers know the insurgents planned to overrun their position and take them hostage, but they were able to repel the attack, he said.

However, Ambrosia’s radio requests for Apaches to provide aerial support wouldn’t arrive for another 45 minutes, he added.

“That’s when it began to get really hairy,” he said. “The enemy was getting really close and using hand grenades.”

Ambrosia’s actions and direction of his men repelled the enemy fighters long enough for the helicopters to arrive. The modest captain said he doesn’t know exactly how many enemies were killed, but knows that two of his men were wounded. None were killed.

“I’m very thankful for that,” Ambrosia said.

U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, awards the Silver Star to U.S. Army Capt. Gregory Ambrosia in Korengal Outpost, Afghanistan, July 11, 2008. Ambrosia was recognized for valor under fire after running into a hail of enemy gunfire to help save fallen comrades in September 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

The paratroopers have been operating in the remote Afghanistan valley for 14 months and will be returning to their home base in Italy later this month.

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