News: Wisconsin National Guard combat engineer awarded Silver Star
Story by 1st Lt. Joseph Trovato
VOLK FIELD, Wis. - For the first time since World War II, a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard has earned the Silver Star Medal. The soldier was awarded the medal during a ceremony at Volk Field in Camp Douglas, Wis., May 31.
1st Sgt. Gregory A. Fulton, a combat engineer from Arbor Vitae, Wis., earned the award — the nation’s third highest military decoration for valor, for his gallantry in action during an engagement Aug. 10, 2009 in Pul-E-Alam, Afghanistan. Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, the vice chief of the National Guard Bureau, presented the Wisconsin National Guardsman with the award.
“I think on a personal level, like I said, I’m honored,” Fulton said. “I think what I feel most about the award … I’m far more proud of my unit and the courage and the bravery that they displayed on a daily basis.”
Preferring to focus on the service and sacrifices of his unit instead, Fulton said the medal was a reflection of a team effort.
“He is a very humble man,” his wife Sandra said. “I know that this isn’t his thing today. I know he’d rather focus on the unit. He just doesn’t like a lot of attention on himself.”
Fulton’s unit, the 951st "Sapper" Engineer Company, based in Tomahawk, Wis., was called to provide a dismounted security force to assist the Afghan National Army in clearing a building that held insurgents delivering small arms fire. According to the award citation, Fulton never hesitated as he took charge of an ad-hoc 12-man U.S.-Afghan assault team.
The Silver Star recipient led the team into the building, where it cleared each floor while encountering an increasing barrage of gunfire and casualties as they closed in on the enemy combatants. In a dangerous spot, Fulton and his team engineered an improvised breaching device that allowed them to neutralize the remaining insurgents and clear the building.
“Our options were to storm the stairs where the likelihood of success would be limited at best,” he said. “I don’t think it would have been worth storming the stairs at that point. So we were going to come up with an alternate means of getting up there.”
His ingenuity in the face of the enemy likely saved several Soldiers’ lives and ultimately secured Fulton’s place in the pantheon of Silver Star winners that came before him.
Though Fulton deflected praise for his actions, others who served with him paid tribute to his character.
“The easiest way to sum it up is humility, commitment, courage, and valor under fire under some extreme circumstances,” said Maj. Brian Barth, who was Fulton's company commander in Afghanistan. “Where most individuals would probably turn and run, he didn’t. He coalesced individuals involved in that, seized the initiative, and did some intuitive thinking on how to mitigate the threat.”
Sgt. 1st Class Richard Helm said he was not surprised that Fulton reacted so valiantly under fire.
“He’s a quiet, confident leader,” Helm said. “He speaks when he has something important to say, generally. But he’s well-liked by the troops, and it’s important for him to make sure that the troops are taken care of. Not only that they’re taken care of, but that they are getting good training. He’s an excellent leader and a good all-around person.”
Others were also not surprised at Fulton’s valor.
“It was obviously a surprising story, but looking back on him being there and the ideas and things he came up with, it doesn’t surprise me one bit,” said 1st Lt. Dylan Abler, who also served with the Silver Star winner in Afghanistan. “That was just kind of what it was. Fulton was someone you could often look to to solve problems on the ground. That was obviously a problem to be solved, and he took care of it.”
“The Silver Star is not a popularity contest — it reflects valorous, heroic actions on the battlefield,” said Maj. Gen. Donald P. Dunbar, the state’s adjutant general. “I’m sure 1st Sgt. Fulton didn’t wake up on Aug. 10, 2009, and decide to do something heroic that day. His actions were instinctive and bear out his character and dedication. And his actions were successful, which speaks to his ability. In that firefight, 1st Sgt. Fulton was the embodiment of what we expect from an American Soldier. Here at home, he remains the epitome of a Citizen Soldier. Always ready. Always there.”
Born on Kessler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., in 1973, Fulton grew up in northern California where he graduated from Sutter High School before joining the Army in 1991. After graduating from basic training and infantry school, he went on to graduate from the Army’s airborne, air assault, pathfinder, and ranger schools.
While on active duty, he deployed to Haiti and Saudi Arabia. In 1998, he transferred to the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 724th Engineer Battalion, based in Rhinelander, Wis. He eventually deployed to Iraqi as a platoon sergeant and later to Afghanistan as the first sergeant of the 951st.
Only one other Soldier in the Wisconsin Army National Guard holds a Silver Star, but that Soldier earned the medal while serving as a member of the active component Army.
He and his wife live in Arbor Vitae, Wis., with their three children.