French Government Honors Special Forces Soldiers

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2011 — They are used to their deeds pass as unno­ticed as their bat­tle­field move­ments, but six Spe­cial Forces sol­diers took the lime­light here last night to receive a French mil­i­tary award rough­ly equiv­a­lent to the Sil­ver Star.

Five Nation­al Guard sol­diers and one who serves on active duty were hon­ored with the Croix de la Valeur Mil­i­taire – or French Cross of Mil­i­tary Val­or — in a pri­vate cer­e­mo­ny at the French ambassador’s res­i­dence attend­ed by senior lead­ers includ­ing Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey, Army chief of staff, and Army Maj. Gen. Tim­o­thy Kadavy, deputy direc­tor of the Army Nation­al Guard.

“I am deeply hon­ored to … pay trib­ute to six most out­stand­ing Amer­i­can sol­diers from the Unit­ed States Army and the Army Nation­al Guard who dis­tin­guished them­selves while fight­ing the Tal­iban and al-Qai­da ele­ments in Afghanistan,” said French Ambas­sador François Delat­tre.

“Through their out­stand­ing brav­ery and engage­ment in com­bat,” the ambas­sador con­tin­ued, “they fought at the risk of their own lives to assist French sol­diers, their broth­ers in arms, who expe­ri­enced a bar­rage of fire from the ene­my.”

The five Nation­al Guard sol­diers sup­port­ed a French reg­i­ment exe­cut­ing a mis­sion in and around Afghanistan’s Uzbeen Val­ley in 2009; the active duty sol­dier was rec­og­nized for sim­i­lar­ly hero­ic action in the same region a year ear­li­er.

“They were try­ing to get at the French oper­at­ing in the val­ley,” said Army Nation­al Guard Capt. Thomas Harp­er, one of the awardees. “We pre­vent­ed that from hap­pen­ing, allow­ing them to con­duct their mis­sion.”

Cre­at­ed in 1956 by the French gov­ern­ment to reward extra­or­di­nary deeds of brav­ery car­ried out as part of secu­ri­ty and law enforce­ment oper­a­tions, the Croix de la Valeur Mil­i­taire is one of the most respect­ed dec­o­ra­tions in the French mil­i­tary, Delat­tre said.

“Your courage hon­ors you as well as your coun­try; your exem­plary ser­vice deserves to be com­mend­ed,” Delat­tre told Army Maj. Richard Nes­sel of the 10th Spe­cial Forces Group, the active duty sol­dier among the hon­orees.

“You demon­strat­ed the high­est mil­i­tary qual­i­ties and sense of duty,” Delat­tre told the five Army Nation­al Guard sol­diers who received the award: Capt. Thomas Harp­er, Mas­ter Sgt. David Nue­mer, Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Ahern, Staff Sgt. Casey Roberts and Sgt. Ryan Meis­ter.

“You dis­tin­guished your­selves,” the ambas­sador added. “Your out­stand­ing con­duct along­side French forces, … your remark­able brav­ery in the face of dan­ger in the com­bat zone, and your superb com­bat­ant qual­i­ties deserve to be com­mend­ed.”

Harp­er, a tra­di­tion­al Guard mem­ber who has been on active duty most of the last decade, was joined by his par­ents and sis­ters at the cer­e­mo­ny. “It’s a huge hon­or for all of us,” he said. “They’re com­plete­ly over­whelmed. We don’t nor­mal­ly look for this kind of recog­ni­tion. I don’t think they’ve ever even been to one of my mil­i­tary school grad­u­a­tions.”

The recog­ni­tion of the Guard mem­bers reflects the Guard’s con­tri­bu­tions to the total force, Dempsey said.

“The last three award cer­e­monies I’ve been to hap­pen to have been Nation­al Guard sol­diers,” he said. “We’re real­ly one Army. It’s a sig­nal that, as we go for­ward in a new fis­cal envi­ron­ment, we have to main­tain faith with all three com­po­nents of our Army — active, Guard and Reserve.

“It’s a great cred­it to the young men and women who serve,” Dempsey con­tin­ued. “I couldn’t be more proud of our Army in gen­er­al — but tonight is a night for five of these six sol­diers in par­tic­u­lar who hap­pen to be Nation­al Guard.”

The Nation­al Guard has Spe­cial Forces sol­diers in 18 states. While they train and deploy just as active duty sol­diers, Guard mem­bers also must bal­ance civil­ian lives and careers. There are five active duty Spe­cial Forces groups, and two in the Nation­al Guard.

“We’re in the right place at the wrong time,” quipped Army Nation­al Guard Brig. Gen. Steven Duff, deputy com­man­der, U.S. Army Spe­cial Forces Com­mand. “We’re every­where. We can do what­ev­er is nec­es­sary, and it shows that the cal­iber of our sol­diers is just as good as any­body else.

“We are part of the oper­a­tional force. Giv­en the prop­er pre­dictabil­i­ty in our force-gen­er­a­tion mod­el, we can accom­plish any mis­sion that’s giv­en,” he added.

“It says a lot about our units and our ded­i­ca­tion to duty and the train­ing that we’ve under­gone, as well as the matu­ri­ty of our sol­diers,” Harp­er said.

“It’s a great hon­or,” said Ahern, a laser physi­cist in his civil­ian career who has spent four of the last 10 years deployed or recov­er­ing from com­bat-relat­ed injuries.

Ahern’s par­ents, wife and daugh­ter accom­pa­nied him. “They see the news­pa­per sto­ries,” he said. “They hear abstract descrip­tions of what you’ve done. But they don’t real­ly see it first­hand, nor do they see recog­ni­tion, so this is a real­ly good oppor­tu­ni­ty.”

A full nar­ra­tive of the exact events that earned the six their awards can­not be shared for oper­a­tional secu­ri­ty rea­sons. But it tells of men sur­round­ed, wild­ly out­num­bered and pinned down for hours, who fought on despite severe injuries. It tells off life­sav­ing bud­dy aid under with­er­ing, accu­rate fire — and of declin­ing med­ical evac­u­a­tion to stay in the fight until the last man was out safe­ly.

None of the Green Berets men­tioned any of this at the cer­e­mo­ny. They stepped briefly into the light to accept hon­ors. They said almost noth­ing of bat­tles fought in Afghanistan and in hos­pi­tals. They shook hands with senior lead­ers who had come to thank them and, by exten­sion, all those that serve along­side them. They shared the moment with par­ents, wives and chil­dren who rarely get to share in what they do — and slipped back into the night as mod­est­ly and qui­et­ly as they arrived.

“We had kind of a tough fight those last few days in Afghanistan,” Harp­er said. “We were just hap­py to be alive. We real­ly didn’t expect this kind of hon­or. It’s pret­ty over­whelm­ing, I’ll tell you.

“We’re very qui­et in what we do,” he con­tin­ued. “We don’t expect recog­ni­tion. We don’t look for it. This has been a lit­tle much for us today, … but we’re hap­py that we could be here and that the French felt they could give us this extreme hon­or.”

Navy Adm. Eric Olson, com­man­der of U.S. Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand; Army Lt. Gen. John Mul­hol­land, com­mand­ing gen­er­al of U.S. Army Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand; and Army Lt. Gen. Richard Zah­n­er, deputy chief of staff for intel­li­gence, also were on hand for the cer­e­mo­ny.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)