After jumping out of helicopters at daybreak onto jagged, ice-covered rocks and into water at an altitude of 10,000 feet, the 12-man Special Forces team scrambled up the steep mountainside toward its target -- an insurgent stronghold in northeast Afghanistan.
"Our plan," Capt. Kyle M. Walton recalled in an interview, "was to fight downhill."
But as the soldiers maneuvered toward a cluster of thick-walled mud buildings constructed layer upon layer about 1,000 feet farther up the mountain, insurgents quickly manned fighting positions, readying a barrage of fire for the exposed Green Berets.
A harrowing, nearly seven-hour battle unfolded on that mountainside in Afghanistan's Nuristan province on April 6, as Walton, his team and a few dozen Afghan commandos they had trained took fire from all directions. Outnumbered, the Green Berets fought on even after half of them were wounded -- four critically -- and managed to subdue an estimated 150 to 200 insurgents, according to interviews with several team members and official citations.
Today, Walton and nine of his teammates from Operational Detachment Alpha 3336 of the 3rd Special Forces Group will receive the Silver Star for their heroism in that battle -- the highest number of such awards given to the elite troops for a single engagement since the Vietnam War.
"We should not have lived," said Walding, reflecting on the battle in a phone interview from Fort Bragg, N.C., where he and the nine others are to receive the Silver Stars today. Nine more Green Berets from the 3rd Special Forces Group will also receive Silver Stars for other battles. About 200 U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have received the Silver Star, the U.S. military's third-highest combat award.
The AP has a list of the ten men here, with brief summaries of their citations. The men are:
CPT Kyle M Walton
MSG Scott Ford
SSG Dillon Behr
SSG Seth E Howard
SSG Luis Morales
SSG David J Sanders
SSG Ronald J Shurer
SSG John W Walding
SSG Matthew O Williams
SPC Michael D Carter
I haven't found anything further on the other nine men to be awarded the medal.