16 September 2009

SFC Jared Monti to receive Medal of Honor Thursday

SFC Jared Monti enjoyed interacting with people and was a giving person, friends and family say. He rarely made it home for holidays because he gave his Christmas leave to soldiers with children, and once gave away a brand new dining room set to a soldier whose kids were sitting on the floor. Staff Sgt. Chris Grzecki / Courtesy photo.

SFC Jared Monti of 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division was killed in Nuristan province on June 20, 2006 along with a flight medic and two of his fellow soldiers. Tomorrow, Monti's family will receive the Medal of Honor he earned for heroic actions on that day two years ago.

This is the second Medal of Honor awarded for actions occurring during Operation Enduring Freedom, and the first to a member of the US Army.

From Stars & Stripes comes one of the best accounts of that firefight I've read, so make sure to read the entire thing.
The battle and the crushing accident that followed marked every soldier there. All came back changed by the violence, the loss and the astounding sacrifice they saw in themselves and each other during the most dire juncture of their lives.

“There’s only a few people in the world who have been with a person in their most trying time,” said Staff Sgt. Chris Grzecki, 26, now an instructor at Fort Sill, Okla. “To see the things those guys did — it’s amazing to see that kind of dedication and courage.”

Monti will be receiving the medal. But those present will honor not just Monti, posthumously promoted to sergeant first class. They will also honor [Pvt. Brian] Bradbury, whom comrades said kept firing with his good arm until his ammunition ran out, and the rest of the men pinned on that bloody mountain, outnumbered and outgunned.

Some of the younger ones, like Pfc. Derek James, 22, who with a bullet in his back was the only one wounded to make it out alive, Spc. Sean Smith, 23, and Sgt. Joshua Renken, 22, would be back to fight again two years later with the 10th Mountain Division, this time in Logar province.

The soldiers were ambushed on a ridgeline while setting up over-watch for a larger operation in the valley 2,600 feet below.

Suddenly, just before dusk, the place lit up with rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire from the trees just above the ridge to the north.

James tried to take cover behind a small rock, but it wasn’t enough. An RPG blew a chunk out of his left arm. Then a bullet struck his back. If he was going to survive, he was going to have to make a run for it to the southern position.

“I remember thinking ‘Shit, I am going to die,’ ” James said. “We are all going to die.”

Bleeding, he got up and ran past the ridgeline, then crawled up to the main position, where a medic began to bandage him.

The gunfire was so intense that Grzecki could not reach his rifle about a foot away. A soldier beside him had his rifle shot right out of his hand, Grzecki said.

[Sgt. Patrick] Lybert was using a big rock for cover, but kept popping up to see where the enemy was, James recalled. “Then, all of a sudden, he just stopped.”

He’d been shot in the head and killed.

“We were taking so much fire we couldn’t make out where the mortars landed. It was coming in so close that ... you could hear it right over your head, just like whizzing through,” James said. “They were so close at one point you could hear their voices.”

Smith, who grew up the son of a Special Forces officer in the Middle East, heard the enemy chanting in Arabic. The soldiers were throwing grenades to keep them at bay.

Most of the guys made it back to the main position. But as Bradbury, 22, of St. Joseph, Mo., ran, an RPG exploded and he fell just over the ridge from his colleagues. They called out, kept him talking, but separated from the group by what James called “the death zone,” they could not reach him.

“You can tell Bradbury is slowly slipping away,” Renken said, allowing himself to drift into the moment. “We are doing everything we can to keep him talking.”

Monti, whose call sign was Chaos 35, was on the radio calling in artillery and airstrikes. But when Cunningham said he would go after Bradbury, Monti wouldn’t hear of it.

“That’s my guy. I am going to get him,” Grzecki recalled him saying. “That’s when he threw me the radio and said ‘Hey, you are Chaos 35 now.’ ”

Twice Monti tried to make the run, but gunfire pushed him back. The third time, with the men all laying down cover fire, he went for it, almost making it to Bradbury before he fell in a hail of RPGs and bullets.

“With complete disregard for his own safety, SFC Monti moved from behind the cover of rocks into the face of withering enemy fire,” his commendation says. “SFC Monti’s acts of heroism inspired the patrol to fight off the larger enemy force.”

Just minutes later, the air support Monti had called in arrived.

It took time for the last fire to subside. Finally, the beating of a chopper blade pulled close and a jungle penetrator was lowered down onto the ground before them.

“I remember hearing the flight medic they dropped down say ‘Hey, don’t worry. I am gonna get you guys out of here,’ ” said Smith. “That was nice. It made me feel better. At this point it began to sink in that it was [messed] up, the whole situation.”

Staff Sgt. Heathe Craig, 28, a medic with the 159th Air Ambulance Medical Company out of Wiesbaden, Germany, took James up first. He deposited him on the helicopter, then came back down with extra straps to take Bradbury. The private was too hurt to hold on, so Craig rode up with him, the report said.

They ascended into the darkness, relief washing over the men left below, who, even as the helicopter flew away, believed that their man Bradbury had made it out of there alive.

“I heard a thump, like you dropped a ship anchor to the ground,” Smith said. “I heard someone call the medic again. I asked what was going on.

“The steel cable ... snapped and that killed Bradbury,” Smith recounted. “It also killed the flight medic that had just told us we would be OK.”

They laid out the dead and took turns watching the mountain with their thermal vision goggles. They could see the bodies of their comrades slowly growing cold in the long, deep night.

The following day, helicopters returned for the Fallen, and the exhausted men made their way down the mountain on foot. They were reunited days later for an emotional goodbye at Bagram Air Field.

A combat outpost has been named for SFC Monti and the Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram now bears flight medic SSG Heathe Craig's name.

Update: Here's the link to SFC Monti's Medal of Honor page at Army.mil.

Update 2: Combat Outpost Monti was rededicated today in Afghanistan.

Update 3: Blackfive has video of the White House ceremony.

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