by Lance Thompson
On 12 December, Ann Scott Tyson of the Washington Post put out a story on an American Special Forces unit in Afghanistan that prevailed against overwhelming odds in a desperate battle against heavily-armed insurgents. The story was also covered by the Associated Press, and the AP story was posted on the FoxNews website. If you rely on other media for information about the world, you probably missed it.
The battle took place in early April when twelve army Green Berets from the 3rd Battalion of the 3rd Special Forces Group and a few dozen allies from the 201st Afghan Commando Battalion were inserted by helicopters onto a 10,000 foot peak in northeast Afghanistan’s remote Nuristan province. Their target was the village stronghold of the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin militant group–previously thought unreachable by Allied forces.
The American Green Berets and their Afghan allies were immediately taken under fire. The enemy were more numerous than expected, armed with automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades, and occupied fortified positions on all sides of our troops, including some that were 1000 feet above them. The Special Forces team was caught in the open, surrounded, and was fired upon from all sides.
Nevertheless, the Americans and Afghans never lost their nerve or their resourcefulness, maintained good fire discipline and employed sound tactics. In the ensuing seven hour battle, the team was nearly overrun more than once, they nearly exhausted their ammunition, and were aided by friendly air support dropping 2000-pound bombs dangerously close to their position.
The team fought their way downhill through murderous fire, carrying their wounded to a streambed where the first medevac helicopter was driven away by enemy fire. The wounded were evacuated on a second helicopter that landed in midstream, and the rest of the team was extracted by subsequent helicopters. Two Afghan commandos were killed, and fifteen of the group were wounded, including four critical injuries among the Green Berets. The enemy’s losses were estimated to be 150 to 200.
For their valor in this two mile high battle, ten of the twelve Green Berets in the unit were awarded Silver Stars, the army’s third-highest decoration. No unit of elite troops has earned such a quantity of the decorations in a single action since Vietnam.
The story went out on 12 December, as mentioned above. There was no mention of it on the websites of the Los Angeles Times, New York Times or MSNBC.
Once, in an alternate universe known as the mid-20th Century, feats of courage, sacrifice and heroism in combat were honored by our news media. Victories were celebrated, and the men who won them were lauded. I believe Americans still want to hear about soldiers like Staff Sgt. Seth Howard, who accounted for 20 of the enemy with his marksmanship, or Staff Sgt. John Wayne Walding who, after having his lower leg virtually amputated by enemy fire, applied his own tourniquet, or Staff Sgt. Luis Morales, who knelt on the hip of wounded Staff Sgt. Dillon Behr–the only way he could apply pressure to the wound and continue firing–until he too was twice wounded. The true stories of men like these are inspiring, and demonstrate the best and highest aspects of the American character.
Today, the media outlets that ignore stories like these prefer to chronicle the antics of misbehaving professional athletes, scandalous starlets, or corrupt politicians. But the men and women in our armed forces set sterling examples of behavior that we can all aspire to. Our troops continually show that they are indeed drawn from the best America has to offer, and prove it with their courage, commitment and sacrifice. Yet our media would rather spotlight the infrequent mistakes and missteps of the few while ignoring the achievements of the many. Reporters dwell intently on the costs and tragedies of combat, but seldom celebrate the hard-won victories. The media will gladly place blame for the ravages of war, but only reluctantly give credit to those who endure it and prevail.
The men of the 3rd Battalion do not consider themselves heroic. They did their duty as they saw it, and each is more comfortable talking about the courageous deeds of others rather than his own. The vast majority of Americans in uniform fit this profile, but you would never know it from the media coverage of the military.
The people who serve our country in uniform do not consider themselves heroes. But every other American should, and we have an obligation to honor the gift of freedom that they provide for us every day. If your source for news–in print, on television, or on line–covered this story, then you’re fortunate. Too many don’t, and of those, we should ask, “Why not?”