Seven Special Forces soldiers get medal for valor

Seven Special Forces soldiers from a Fort Bragg-based unit will be awarded the Army’s third-highest valor medal for actions in Afghanistan.

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FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Seven Special Forces soldiers were awarded the Silver Star on Monday at Fort Bragg for risking their own lives to save others in Afghanistan.

The medal for valor is the Army's third-highest decoration.

"Something much greater than yourself runs through your veins," Col. James Kraft told the soldiers during the ceremony.

The seven soldiers are from the 7th Special Forces Group, which is trained to deploy to Latin America but in recent years has frequently deployed to Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Gould and Staff Sgt. Mario Pinilla were on patrol in August 2008 when some Afghan villagers told them an ambush was set near a river in the Oruzgan Province. Gould was leading a group of Afghan soldiers when they came across about 20 enemy fighters in an orchard.

"The enemy kept saying they could hear us, but couldn't see us," Gould said in an interview with the Associated Press earlier this month. "They popped up and there was a whole slew of them. It was mutual shock."

Gould started shooting and called in his position on the radio.

Soon, enemy rounds were exploding around him covering him in a cloud of debris and dirt. One bullet hit Gould's helmet, ripping it off of his head. Another round hit his body armor.

"I was pretty much out there hanging," he said. "We were in a world of hurt."

Pinilla saw that Gould was trapped in the open and could be overrun. Pinilla grabbed his machine gun, sprinted approximately 80 yards into enemy fire and set up his weapon near Gould. The added firepower kept the enemy at bay, Pinilla's award citation says. But when Pinilla stood to throw a grenade, he was hit in the lower back and upper left thigh.

After two other Special Forces teammates arrived, including a medic, Gould kept firing while the medic treated Pinilla's injuries.

Knowing that Pinilla needed to be evacuated, Gould helped the medic drag him to safety under fire until he finally lifted Pinilla onto his shoulders and carried him the final 40 yards to safety.

"We've all seen movies with guys trying to run up and save their friends and they get killed. That was kind of in the back of my head," Gould said.

One soldier was honored posthumously.

During an ambush in May 2008 in western Afghanistan, Sgt. 1st Class David Nunez, 27, of Raeford, kept firing his machine gun despite being wounded. After his vehicle caught fire, Nunez began to discard ammunition and explosives believing that other soldiers were trapped. Nunez was engulfed in flames and succumbed to his injuries.

Four others were also honored:

  • Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Clouse ran through an ambush at least three times to give medical aid to four critically wounded special operations Marines and an Afghan soldier during a raid in Herat in June 2008. Even when a machine gun round skipped off his body armor, Clouse kept providing aid and eventually helped call in air strikes to break up the attack.
  • Sgt. 1st Class Antonio Gonzalez exposed himself to heavy enemy fire trying to rescue four Afghan soldiers, one of whom was fatally wounded, during an ambush in June 2008. Gonzalez saw the four were pinned down. Ordering his truck into the kill zone, he ran three times through the crossfire of enemy snipers and machine gunners to rescue the Afghans.
  • During the same ambush, Sgt. 1st Class Mark Roland led his team to a dried creek bed to provide cover fire. Unaware of an enemy position nearby, Roland and his team were attacked from less than 10 feet away. Roland charged the enemy fighters, throwing a grenade into the trench. Later, he led eight Afghan soldiers to safety after they were pinned down.
  • Master Sgt. Julio Bocanegra's team was attacked by a force three times its size in August 2008. Both Bocanegra's truck and an Afghan police truck were caught in the crossfire. Realizing that the policemen were hit, Bocanegra carried the three wounded Afghans to safety. His actions allowed the convoy to move out of the ambush.

Lt. General John F. Mulholland said the valor of the Special Operations and Special Forces has become almost commonplace “to the point where I’m afraid we’ve started to take it for granted, to the point where I’m afraid it is expected."

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Bryan Mims, Reporter
Kathy Hanrahan, Web Editor

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