By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
July 12, 2008 - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff yesterday took the opportunity to present 12 paratroopers with awards here for valorous and heroic achievements in combat. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen pinned five Army Commendation Medals with valor devices, five Purple Heart Medals, one Bronze Star with valor device, and one Silver Star on the troopers' chests during a ceremony at their combat outpost here.
"It's an honor and privilege to be here," Mullen said to the awardees. "This ceremony is about individuals who represent the sacrifice of so many."
The paratroopers are assigned to 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, and have been operating in the valley for 14 months. Though their tour at the secluded combat outpost has been somewhat primitive, with few luxuries and the bare necessities, their mission of counterinsurgency has been quite complex.
The troopers often found themselves patrolling the rugged Korengal Valley and surrounding areas for days at a time with little contact with the rest of the world. Only radio communication and a keen sense of their environment kept the rotation of patrolling squads and platoons connected with even their isolated outpost, soldiers explained.
Army Capt. Greg Ambrosia, executive officer of Company A and recipient of the Silver Star that Mullen awarded here, said he can attribute his leadership and confidence during such patrols to the lives he saved during one particular encounter with Taliban fighters on the night of Sept. 27.
Ambrosia and his men set up a makeshift outpost after a nighttime air assault into the valley. The troopers made contact with the enemy early the next morning, receiving a hail of rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire. But they couldn't spot where exactly the attack was coming from, he said.
His basic function and responsibility was to radio information from the company commander in a nearby mounted element on the side of the mountain back to the battalion headquarters, he continued.
"We spotted an enemy scout and eventually made contact, but he was able to [disengage and communicate] our location to other fighters in the valley," Ambrosia said.
Ambrosia's element had a translator monitoring the enemy communication with a basic one-way radio. After the initial contact, it was quiet for about 45 minutes. The interpreter continued to monitor the radio, and Ambrosia learned that the scout was coordinating with other enemy fighters in the area to launch an attack, he explained.
Soon there were at least three enemy elements with three to five fighters each closing in on the platoon. So close, in fact, they were in hand-grenade range of his troops, he said.
"They were able to get to really close using the terrain," he continued. "At one point, I started calling the vehicles in the valley to start shooting on our position, because the enemy was too close to call in artillery or mortar fire."
"So we ended up having our guys shooting on our own position," he continued.
Even though Ambrosia and his men maintained some safety behind a mound of rocks, the smoke from the mounted vehicle engulfed their position. He began call for aerial support from AH-64 Apache helicopters, he said.
Enemy radio traffic intercepted by Ambrosia's interpreter let the paratroopers know the insurgents planned to overrun their position and take them hostage, but they were able to repel the attack, he said.
However, Ambrosia's radio requests for Apaches to provide aerial support wouldn't arrive for another 45 minutes, he added.
"That's when it began to get really hairy," he said. "The enemy was getting really close and using hand grenades."
Ambrosia's actions and direction of his men repelled the enemy fighters long enough for the helicopters to arrive. The modest captain said he doesn't know exactly how many enemies were killed, but knows that two of his men were wounded. None were killed.
"I'm very thankful for that," Ambrosia said.
"It has been a very dangerous time here," Mullen told the troopers. "You're almost home; it's not far off, so stay focused and get home safe. I can't say enough about how impressed and proud I am of what you've accomplished.
The battalion has already begun redeploying troopers. The entire battalion should conclude its 15-month deployment and be back at home station in Vicenza, Italy, by the end of the month.