Two items in this week’s RED post.
“LEADERSHIP UNDER FIRE”
Last week we had an account of Staff Sergeant Ron Shurer’s actions in the Battle of Shok Valley in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, which resulted in Sgt. Shurer being awarded the Medal of Honor. Shurer was a major part of the reason that wounded soldiers were evacuated safely that day.
One of his teammates, Master Sergeant Matthew O. Williams, was also awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in that battle. This is MSgt. Williams’ story.
While Staff Sgt. Shurer was rappelling down a sheer cliff with the wounded, shielding their bodies with his, MSgt. Williams was as busy as a buzzsaw. He moved two Special Forces soldiers to where Sgt. Shurer could evacuate them. He acted as a relay when radios stopped working. He positioned some of the Afghan commandos in tactically critical positions that held off the much larger enemy force during that “hellish firefight”. He moved more wounded to Shurer’s position. Sgt. Shurer said of Williams that day, “He was always just finding something to do whether somebody told him to or not.”
Years ago, an American instructor in the Israeli martial art Krav Maga told me that it is based on “constant awareness and constant motion”. That description fits perfectly the fuller account I read here of Williams’ actions on April 6 2008.
MSgt Williams’ training gives you a good idea of the determination and commitment it takes to turn a soldier into a Special Forces soldier. He put it all to use in multiple deployments in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Juniper Shield.
Williams’ resume is heavily loaded (pun intended) with weapons training, but also includes a Master Leader Course in Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) and more. The Medal of Honor is at the top of a long list of medals he earned.
I know that many soldiers, especially those who have faced extreme combat, are not happy with talk about their medals. I think I understand that, as much as a civilian can, but those medals stand for some important things. The detailed account of MSgt. Williams’ actions in the Battle of Shok Valley, for example, contains phrases like “braving intense enemy fire” and “again exposing himself to enemy fire” (with purpose; not recklessly), and “led a counterattack” (against a numerically greatly superior enemy force). The sentence that sums it up is: “Master Sgt. Williams’ actions exemplify leadership under fire.”
Also at the army.mil link is a 5-minute video of MSgt. Williams talking about the battle. I highly recommend it. The understated calmness of his description does nothing to conceal the intensity of that battle. His wife’s smile as she talks about how proud she is of him is great to see.
Thankfully, MSgt Williams’ entire team made it out alive, and he had a lot to do with that.
“MAYDAY SHIP SINKING!”
Coast Guard Alaska, Air Station Kodiak, 350 personnel.
The producer of this 42-minute video calls Alaska’s coast “America’s deadliest waters.” If you doubt that, this video will change your mind. I highly recommend it. My words can’t do the story justice.
What does it take to make an experienced Coast Guardsman say, “I’ve never been so terrified”?
What do you do when you get a Mayday call from the wife of a ship’s captain who is on a ship with three others, in danger of sinking, in total darkness, aground in 81mph winds and 30-foot waves, the ship being battered by the surf, and her communication with her husband was cut off and could not be re-established?
If you’re the US Coast Guard, you launch a rescue attempt. At once.
It took the helicopter two hours to cover the five miles to the ship. At the scene, winds reached 115 mph.
“The events of the next fourteen hours will push the entire crew of Air Station Kodiak to their limit.”
If the persons on board had gone in the water in the negative 30 degree windchill … “their survivability rate goes down significantly”.
Lt. Audry Andry: “The thing about Alaska that makes it so difficult is most of the time we don’t even know exactly what the weather is we’re flying into.”
Attempts to send down a line and a rescue swimmer proved too dangerous, and with no way to reach the vessel, the helicopter being tossed around violently, and fuel running out, the chopper headed back to base. Having left base at 8:30 pm, they returned at 1:15 am, with nothing to show for it except knowing they had made the only choice they could.
When the pilot asked the rescue swimmer how he felt about going down on a line, the mechanic answered, “He’s uh, vomiting back here.” He tried anyway, but it just wasn’t possible.
A second crew was sent out to orbit 3,000 feet above and hope the winds die down. The Station sent out calls for all hands, including those scheduled for leave: “Sorry, you’ll have to take your vacation some other time. We need you now.”
Then a second vessel, the Heritage, sent a Mayday, saying they had “lost all engines and [were] taking on massive water.” This one was adrift with seven people on board.
The crew hovering over Kimberly crew diverted to Heritage, and here they were able to send down their rescue swimmer and a basket to quickly pluck two people out of the water. Then the fishing boat Tuxedni called that they already had the life raft occupants on board.
Back at base the next crew headed out was warned, “Conditions here are pretty good, but on scene they’re pretty treacherous.”
But daylight was coming! Wind speed down to 70mph.
The Kimberly was by now totally covered in ice, but it was thick enough for the rescue swimmer to walk on, and the four survivors were all quickly hoisted aboard and flown to base and medical treatment.
“Heroic effort, herculean effort by everyone to do all the things that needed to be done … There’s a tremendous amount of pride in making it through a night like that. The team effort aspect of this, it’s always going on. Most people just see the helicopter on scene, they see the C130 on scene. What they don’t see is the network, the team of people that are working behind the scenes. No single flight like this could ever happen if it weren’t for that teamwork, but tonight was an example of how it’s really crucial for everybody to be working together.”
The team spirit and extreme commitment Air Station Kodiak personnel live by are powerful examples to all of us. Especially to those of us who are followers of Jesus.
May God bless all our military and bring them safely home. And may their courage and dedication be known and honored.