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Kunar Province, Afghanistan – As the sun shone brightly, U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus awarded two Silver Star Medals to Task Force No Slack Soldiers at Forward Operating Base Joyce in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar Province April 11th.
The Silver Star recipients, U.S. Army Capt. Edward B. Bankston, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company from Decatur, GA., and U.S. Army Sgt. Joshua L. Bostic, a squad leader from Spring City, Tennessee, assigned to Company C, both from 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, said the weather during Operation Strong Eagle III in Marawara District was anything but sunny.As soon as the battalion air assaulted into the Taliban stronghold March 28th, they realized something was wrong. More than 200 insurgent fighters were positioned inside and outside of the villages of Barawolo Kalay and Sarowbay with the possibility of an additional 200 fighters reinforcing the area in 24 hours.
That’s when a snowstorm moved in and air support became impossible.
Taliban fighters launched a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire using the weather as concealment.
“Capt. Bankston had a tough situation on his hands with one platoon in the high ground and two platoons clearing villages, plus attachments, and every single company was in contact in the entire valley at the same time,” said U.S. Army Capt. Kevin W. Mott, a platoon leader from San Rafael, CA.
With some of his Soldiers killed in action or wounded during the fighting, Bankston regained control in the chaos, repositioned troops and reported casualties and troop strength consistently, said Mott.
“He was extremely calm and didn’t get excited; just regular Capt. Bankston,” said Mott. “He set the tone for everyone else to follow with his demeanor. He’s what a leader needs to be in that situation. He managed the fight and managed assets expertly.”
Bankston, who is on his third deployment and was previously shot in the knee a few months earlier, said other Soldiers that day acted more heroically than him.
“The way I look at it is that I was walking in the footsteps of heroes throughout the mission, so I was covered,” explained Bankston.
With a quiet demeanor and a genuine smile, Bankston said it was easy to be a commander when his troops acted so valiantly that day.
He also said it was good to have Gen. Petraeus and higher headquarters recognize the hard work Task Force No Slack demonstrated in Kunar Province. For the past year, Soldiers constantly attacked Taliban safe havens and performing selfless acts of valor for each other in combat.
“The bonds that are forged through combat are stronger bonds than any other you can think of,” said U.S. Army Capt. Tye L. Reedy, Co. C commander from Dade City, FL.
The next day, March 29th, Reedy and his company’s bonds would be tested.
Bostic and his platoon just got word they had to travel back up to the high ground through menacing gunfire to refortify a position.
“We fight as a company and move as a company, so we all went to the high ground,” said Reedy. “That’s when three Soldiers were pinned down behind a two-foot wall taking fire.”
Bostic and his men were the those Soldiers.
During concentrated fire on his position, one of the Soldiers was shot and Bostic was wounded while trying to pull him to cover.
He provided first aid while under machine-gun fire, but the Soldier didn’t make it.
“Although he feels his actions were part of his job and his duty, they were undoubtedly valorous. In his mind, there was no hesitation,” said Reedy.
Bostic led the rest of his team back to the company. Waiting for a lull in the fire, he then led another element under direct enemy fire to recover the body of his fallen comrade.
Later, he refused to be medically evacuated for his injuries in order to stay with his troops.
“Bostic was walking wounded at risk of infection,” explained Reedy. “But he didn’t want to leave his guys. The mission and his Soldiers were more important to him. That’s what type of noncommissioned officer he is.”
After being awarded the Silver Star, Bostic said it was a humbling experience because he doesn’t believe he did anything more extraordinary than his fellow Soldiers.
“I know the other guys would do the same for me; it really wasn’t a thought,” said Bostic about that fateful day.
During the mission, six U.S. Soldiers would be killed in action as well as scores of others injured.
More Silver Star Medals are pending approval for that operation, but Bankston said what was on everybody’s mind, “I would trade all the medals to get our lost guys back.”
Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell was born Jan. 8, 1981 in Chicago. He is currently a U.S. Army Reserve photojournalist team leader assigned to the 210th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment in Cary, N.C. As a team leader, he is attached to the public affairs office, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division based out of eastern Afghanistan’s Forward Operating Base Fenty.
Burrell derives pleasure from shooting compelling photos of fellow Soldiers in order to tell their stories. As an Army storyteller, he tries to view situations differently than other journalists. He attempts to bring emotion and art out of the daily and sometimes mundane task of being a Soldier. As the Soldier’s motto is: Long periods of boredom followed by brief periods of excitement – Burrell has been there for both to capture the moments that make history.
He was named the Army Journalist of the year 2010 and the Army Reserve Military Journalist of the Year for 2009 & 2010, won numerous Keith L. Ware awards for military journalism and was awarded a Combat Action Badge for his coverage of Soldiers under enemy fire.
His photos have appeared in USA Today, Reuter’s, Chicago Sun-Times, Wall Street Journal and myriad other publications throughout the world. Yet, he continues to seek the difficult missions where his Armed Forces brethren are in harm’s way.
Web Site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mark_burrell/
Topics101st Airborne Division, Afghanistan, Barawolo Kalay, Bastogne, Dade City FL, David H. Petraeus, Decatur GA, Edward B. Bankston, Fort Campbel KY, Forward Operating Base Joyce, Insurgents, Joshua L. Bostic, Kevin W. Mott, Kunar Province, machine gun, Marawara District, Operation Strong Eagle III, Rocket-Propelled Grenades, San Rafael CA, Sarowbay, Silver Star Medal, Spring City TN, Strong Eagle III, Taliban, Task Force No Slack, Tye L. Reedy
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