Staff Sgt. Robert Ashwell is one of eight U.S. Army Silver Star recipients. He is shown above in the second row, third from the left.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
By COURTESY OF ARMY TIMES -
Local soldier, Staff Sgt. Robert Ashwell, along with seven other solders from 3rd Special Forces Group, were honored March 27 with the Silver Star, the nation's third highest award for valor, for their actions in Afghanistan.
Ashwell, who is also an eighth-grade science teacher at The Gereau Center, received his award from Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland, commander of Army Special Operations Command, at Fort Bragg, N.C.
On April 6, 2013, Ashwell, 10 other Special Forces soldiers, a forward observer, a combat controller and two interpreters were sent into the Sono Valley in Afghanistan's Kunar province.
Their mission was to extract friendly forces pinned down by more than 100 Taliban and foreign fighters who had surrounded their compound near Bar Ghunday Village in Shigal Wa Sheltan District.
The enemy fighters were within 200 meters of the perimeter, engaging the friendly forces from elevated, fortified fighting positions using small arms, machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire.
The Operational Detachment-Alpha, serving as a secondary quick-reaction force, was tasked with securing a casualty evacuation corridor and facilitating the extraction.
Team members quickly realized their vehicles could not operate on the Sono Valley road, so they began moving on foot for four kilometers, under heavy enemy fire, to seize a "tactically advantageous position," according to the narrative accompanying Ashwell's award.
When the ODA got within 400 meters of the pinned down element, it came under extremely accurate fire from the south and east. To get the team out of the open area, Ashwell, a weapons sergeant, and another member of the ODA ran to a nearby compound and kicked in a locked exterior door as bursts of machine gun fire slammed into the nearby wall.
Inside, the men established a command and control position.
With complete disregard for his own safety, Ashwell and two other members of the ODA continued east and established a critical overwatch position to begin extracting the pinned down element.
During the extraction, Ashwell saw two friendly casualties approaching an open dry river bed, which was under heavy machine gun fire. Ashwell and another member of the ODA moved forward to help them. Ashwell charged through a hail of enemy fire to recover the now fallen casualty. Then Ashwell and his teammate carried the casualty back through the fire and into a nearby vehicle.
Ashwell's bravery and calm demeanor under heavy fire is credited with saving countless American and Afghan lives.