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Soldier, father to receive Silver Star

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., November 25, 2008 – A Fort Campbell Soldier and his father will both receive the Silver Star in a video-cast ceremony Friday at 8 a.m.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan Harris, a Blackhawk pilot with 5th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, will receive his Silver Star in Afghanistan for actions performed July 2, 2008. CW2 Jonathan Harris, 35, graduated from Corbin (KY) High School in 1995 and enlisted in US Marine Corps for four years in 1995. He joined the Army in 1999.

His father, Gary Harris, of Corbin, Ky., will receive the Silver Star for gallantry in action in the Republic of Vietnam Aug. 15, 1969 while serving with 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division. Gary Harris, 60, resides in Corbin, Ky. He was drafted into the US Army in 1968, served until 1970 as a Staff Sergeant when he earned the Silver Star. He  originally received his Silver Star in 1969 without a ceremony.

The two ceremonies will be linked via a video teleconference between Bagram and Fort Campbell. The Silver Star is the fourth highest awarded presented to members of the Armed Forces. It is awarded to those cited for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States while engaged in conflict with an opposing armed force.

The Silver Star is the fourth highest awarded presented to members of the Armed Forces. It is awarded to those cited for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States while engaged in conflict with an opposing armed force.

Gary Harris’ citation reads as follows:

For Gallantry in action against an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam.  Sergeant Harris distinguished himself by intrepid actions on 15 August 1969 while serving as a Squad Leader with Company B, 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry.  On that date, the company was located near Go Rieng when it came under intense hostile mortar and rocket fire, followed by a fierce ground attack from a determined enemy force.  At the time the insurgents launched their assault, Sergeant Harris had his squad set up in a position approximately 200 meters from the unit’s defensive perimeter.  Upon spotting the enemy soldiers, he ordered his comrades to rake the area with devastating volume of fire, forcing the hostile force to withdrawal from the area.  He then led the element back to the laager position.  At this time, Sergeant Harris volunteered to man a strategic sector of the perimeter that had been severely weakened in the initial assault.  As the insurgents began a subsequent attack, he skillfully directed effective retaliatory fire and then rushed across a wide expanse of open terrain to assist a Medic in treating casualties.  Ignoring the enemy rounds impacting throughout the area, SGT Harris swiftly moved about the battle zone and assisted in placing his fallen comrades aboard MEDEVAC helicopters as they arrived at the site.  His courageous and timely actions were highly instrumental in saving the lives of his fellow soldiers and in thwarting the enemy attack.  Sergeant Harris’ personal heroism, professional competence, and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflect great credit upon himself, the American Division, and the United States Army.

CW2 Harris’s citation reads as follows:

CW2 Jonathan W. Harris is recommended for the Silver Star for exceptional gallantry displayed against enemy forces on 2 July 2008, in support of Operation Commando Strike during Operation Enduring Freedom IX in the CENTCOM AOR.  CW2 Harris’ exceptional achievements as the flight lead Pilot-in-Command of aircraft 440 were directly responsible for saving the lives of his entire crew.  His efforts were nothing less than heroic and are in the finest traditions of military service.

On 2 July 2008, CW2 Harris was the Pilot-in-Command of a UH-60L conducting an Air Assault in order to kill or capture a known mid-level Taliban commander operating in the vicinity of Gardez, Afghanistan.  CW2 Harris was the Flight Lead for the mission, responsible for ensuring that the entire flight arrived at the objective on time, on target.  The Helicopter Assault Force (HAF) successfully inserted the Ground Force on the objective and returned to Gardez to refuel.  The Ground Force Commander (GFC) called that his mission was accomplished and he was ready for extraction.  While enroute back to the objective, the GFC called and changed the intended Pick-up Zone (PZ).  Due to enemy contact, the GFC needed to be extracted from the same location that he had been inserted.  In a superior display of airmanship, CW2 Harris adjusted his route, developed a new landing plan, and briefed his crew and the rest of the flight, all while the flight was inbound to the objective.  Even with the last minute changes, CW2 Harris still led the flight to the exact landing zone, exactly on time.

CW2 Harris was on the ground waiting for the Ground Forces to load his aircraft when a large number of previously undetected insurgents unleashed a barrage of fire at the extremely vulnerable aircraft.  They initiated the complex ambush using automatic rifle fire from a line of trees, followed immediately by two Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) landing on both sides of the aircraft, and a large caliber anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) system (believed to be a DShK) positioned on a nearby hill.  A third RPG impacted on the left side of the aircraft in the vicinity of the fuel tank.

Despite the damage the aircraft sustained, CW2 Harris immediately analyzed the situation and understood that he could not remain in his present location.  He coaxed his crippled aircraft into the air in order to get clear of the murderous fire.  Displaying remarkable situational awareness in light of his present circumstances, he flew to the east to remain clear of the other aircraft, yet remained close to the ground to avoid the AAA system and simultaneously began making radio calls to inform the rest of the flight and call in air support. Once in the air, the crewmembers discovered the aircraft was on fire. With the cabin quickly filling with smoke and flames pouring from the engine, CW2 Harris quickly identified a dusty, uneven field, on which he instructed the pilot on the controls to perform an emergency landing.  As the tail wheel of the aircraft contacted the ground, CW2 Harris performed an emergency engine shutdown to cut off the fuel supply to the engines.

Once on the ground, CW2 Harris directed the crew to egress the aircraft with all available weapons and ammunition.  CW2 Harris’ Crew Chief discovered he had sustained several shrapnel wounds in his left arm and buttocks from the RPG blast and had difficulty exiting the aircraft.  CW2 Harris assisted his Crew Chief from the burning aircraft and began to remove the window-mounted machine gun.  The crew gathered at the nose of the aircraft as briefed and CW2 Harris took accountability and instructed the crewmembers to setup a defensive perimeter around the aircraft.  CW2 Harris spotted an inbound CH-47 and instructed the crewmembers to assemble and begin movement towards the intended hasty PZ.  As they conducted movement towards the aircraft they realized that they were taking fire.  They conducted a halt to assess the situation and CW2 Harris realized his Crew Chief had fallen several meters behind.  CW2 Harris dodged incoming fire to return to his Crew Chief’s position.  The Crew Chief, who was still dazed from the blast, fumbling desperately with his machine gun to convert it for ground operation, had not realized small arms fire was striking the ground all around his position.  CW2 Harris knelt on top of his Crew Chief, with no regard to his own safety, and spotted an insurgent charging towards their position.  The attacker was within 70 yards as CW2 Harris engaged and killed the enemy fighter.  Two hundred meters from the crash site enemy forces began pouring out of a compound placing sporadic gun fire in their general direction.  Realizing the imminent danger of the rapidly approaching enemy forces advancing towards the crew, CW2 Harris started engaging the advancing personnel, suppressing the combatants and slowing their advance to allow his fellow crewmembers to continue movement to the inbound aircraft.  After the inbound CH-47 landed, a ten man team exited the aircraft and began to suppress the enemy forces.  CW2 Harris assisted his Crew Chief, virtually dragged him to safety; all the while he continued to suppress the advancing enemy personnel.  As the aircraft prepared for takeoff, CW2 Harris remained outside the ramp and continued to provide accurate suppressive fire until all personnel were securely aboard the aircraft only then climbing aboard and flying to safety.

Three American Soldiers owe their lives to CW2 Harris’ heroic actions.  His extraordinary actions are in keeping with the finest of military traditions and reflect great credit on him, Task Force Shadow, Task Force Destiny, the Combined Joint Task Force 101, and the United States Army.


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