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Fredericksburg native awarded Silver Star for valor during harrowing April battle in Afghanistan
Capt. Kyle Walton (right) and Master Sgt. Scott Ford talk to an Afghani interpreter. The soldiers received Silver Stars.
SGT. DAVID N GUNN/U.S. ARMY PHOTO/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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BY RUSTY DENNEN
Luis Morales will always remember April 6, 2008--a terrifying and bloody day that forever changed his life, and the lives of some of his buddies.
Morales, a Green Beret and sergeant first class in Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 3336, who grew up in the Fredericksburg area, yesterday received a Silver Star for valor at Fort Bragg, N.C., for his actions that morning. Nine others involved in the battle also received the decoration--the most ever for a unit in Afghanistan.
Just after dawn that day, the 31-year-old Morales said, his unit of 12 men and several Afghan interpreters headed into the Shok Valley, an insurgent stronghold in Afghanistan's Nuristan Province.
The objective of Operation Commando Wrath was to kill or capture members of the Hezeb Islami al Gulbadin terrorist group.
Helicopters dropped three teams with the 3rd Special Forces Group, and Afghan commandos, below a village. The men--each carrying 30 to 60 pounds of gear--spread out and started making their way up a rocky, steep ridge.
"I saw four guys with weapons running on the elevation above us," Morales said in a telephone interview this week from the apartment at Fort Bragg where he now lives with his wife, Kathryne.
He opened fire, killing one of them. Then a large group of insurgents in the village shot back with rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
Next to Morales was Staff Sgt. Dillon Behr, who fell to the ground. Behr was hit in the leg and the arm.
As bullets whizzed past, "The captain [Kyle Walton] and I dragged him back about 30 feet" to a more sheltered area, Morales said.
"I did buddy aid on Sgt. Behr," Morales recalled, trying to focus on the crisis at hand. "The bullet had shattered the head of his femur. He was in a lot of pain." Morales kneeled on Behr's wound to stanch the bleeding.
As he was talking to Behr about the other wound, Morales was hit in his left thigh.
"I grabbed my leg and thought, 'This is what it feels like to get shot.' It was like a 10-pound sledgehammer hitting me, and it hurt," Morales said. Two other soldiers ran up to help get him and Behr to a more protected spot.