News: Sweet Ovation Rocks NHL All-Star Game
Story by Staff Sgt. Amanda Smolinski
RALEIGH, N.C. – A roar of nearly 20,000 NHL fans in the RBC center here sent an overwhelming feeling of appreciation over Capt. Darin Sweet, a member of the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), as the crowd rose to a standing ovation at the league’s All-Star game, Jan. 30, recognizing him for his acts of heroism in Afghanistan.
The NHL invited Sweet to pre-game festivities, a meet-and-greet with players in the locker room, and a prime seat location to enjoy the nationally-televised game with his son, David.
Sweet, a Midland, Mich., native, received the Purple Heart after sustaining multiple injuries during an enemy attack in the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan. The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the armed forces of the U.S. who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy. Sweet also earned the Bronze Star with Valor.
“My Bronze Star with Valor was for actions under enemy fire while exposing myself, several times, to rescue injured people and to stop the spread of a fire in the eastern part of the village,” said Sweet. “Without my actions several people would have died and the eastern half of the village might have burned to the ground.”
Sweets actions were heroic; however, he says that he does not feel like a hero.
“I don’t feel I did anything that another soldier wouldn’t have done,” said Sweet.
Sweet was in country less than a month with the Nuristan Provincial Reconstruction Team in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border when he was given a temporary assignment with the 3rd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division.
The village of Barge Matal in Nursistan province, located in the Korengal Valley - a place formally known as a “Taliban stronghold,” was lacking law enforcement. Fierce battles took place in this remote village to prevent any local elections from taking place.
Hundreds of residents fled the village to live in the surrounding corn fields until fighting subsided. When the 10th Mountain Division was deployed to the village of 700-1000 residents, it was to be a “short” stay in order to help re-establish the local police force.
Once the troops settled into the village, they soon realized their mission was not going to be an easy one. Daily firefights with the Taliban took place, some lasting up to eight hours. Despite the constant battles, Sweet and the 10th Mountain Division trained 100-150 locals as policemen. Sweet remembers counting up to 400 residents coming back into the village from the tree lines and corn fields each morning at his one security point only. Villagers felt safe with the troops’ presence.
A few days turned into two and a half months as the 10th Mountain Division trained locals on weapons training and law enforcement skills. They needed the necessary training in order to be recognized by the Afghan government to get paid for their work.
Sweet was one of several soldiers injured on the morning of Aug. 10, 2009, during an attack by the Taliban. His heroic actions put face to face with danger several times. Although Sweet has been called a “hero,” during his meet-and-greet with the NHL players at the All-Star game; he expresses to each of them his thankfulness for what they do.
“Today I thanked the players for being role models for so many people; it is not only the military [heroes] they look up to,” Sweet said. “To be recognized today at the NHL All-Star game was an honor; a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
David Backes, St. Louis Blues forward, met Sweet before the game.
“I was able to play in the Olympics last year and represent the United States,” Backes said. “I tried to feel a little of what you guys [soldiers] feel when it comes to pride.” See video at: http://www.flic.kr./p/9eQmJF
“I always put my soldiers first,” said Sweet. Sweet says that without them [soldiers] and their support, he wouldn’t be the leader he is today.