News: Heroes recognized for valorous actions in combat
Story by Sgt. Richard Wrigley
FORT STEWART, Ga. -- “We all understand this is a possibility, to get injured or killed, its what we volunteered for -- that doesn’t mean that it’s easy.”
The above quote was a comment Capt. Brian Kitching, the former commander Company B “Bayonets,” 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment “Desert Rogues,” 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, made when discussing the actions of Sgt. Thomas Evans, a native of Trenton, New Jersey, and Spc. Dustin Smothers, a native of Jasper, Alabama, two awardees from the Bayonets who were awarded the Bronze Star Medal with "V" device for Valor here at an award ceremony held at the Desert Rogues’ motor pool here, May 16.
Evans and Smothers, both infantryman with Bayonet Company, were awarded the BSM with "V" device for their individual actions on separate occasions in combat during their last deployment to Afghanistan with the Rogues, which took place from March to December of 2012.
During the ceremony the official narratives which accompanied both of the Soldiers’ awards were read for all in attendance, so that those who were not there in those battles might have a better understanding of what it was that Evans and Smothers did.
Their narratives each read like a story, retelling what happened in precise fact, yet still describing actions so amazing, that if a listener did not know better, they would be in disbelief that anyone was capable of such actions.
Evans’ narrative was read first. It described a two-day operation, in which two platoons of the Bayonet Company, along with partner Afghan National Army forces, were dropped by air into a highly contested village area in the Panjwai district.
According to the narrative, it must have seemed like two days of non-stop fighting. By all official accounts, Evans remained at the point of the operation, fighting numerous, sustained, heavy fire fights with determined enemies, maneuvering himself and his squad to destroy the enemy, exposing himself countless times to enemy fire, putting his life in danger numerous times in order to save others. Sgt. Evans did not quit, even after sustaining serious wounds to his face, arms, and legs by an IED explosion. In fact he continued on, administering life-saving aid to a fellow Soldier, Staff Sgt. Dennison, who lost both his legs in the same blast, and then carried him in the open 50 meters to an awaiting MEDEVAC helicopter, before allowing his injuries to be assessed.
Capt. Brian Kitching, the commander of the Bayonets at the time, was on the ground as well for that fight, and is still in awe by what took place.
“Sgt. Evans saw a friend get shot, treated him, and went on to continue the mission, to continue fighting. Then after multiple battles he saw another friend, Staff Sgt. Dennison, get both his legs blown off and sustained major injuries himself … yet still continued on, and treated his buddy without ever checking himself to see if he was OK, refusing aid until he got Staff Sgt. Dennison to safety,” Kitching explained. “To me that was beyond extraordinary.”
After reading Evans’ citation narrative during the ceremony, they went on to Spc. Smothers narrative. His tale of heroism is likewise an account of bravery and self-sacrifice.
According to Smothers’ citation, his platoon, along with partnered Afghan National Army Soldiers, were conducting clearing operations in another highly contested village in the Panjwai district. While under contact, a booby-trap pressure plate IED was detonated. In the strictest sense of the word, Smothers jumped up immediately, while still under direct enemy contact, and rushed to assess the injured. Upon reaching the blast area, Smothers found an ANA Soldier in need of aid, and without hesitation dragged him to safety, administer life-saving aid, and directed others in providing aid to the other less critically injured. Not only did Smothers expose himself to enemy fire four times in order to secure the injured, provide aid, and get him evacuated by air safely, but he provided calm direction to others, and acted with no regard to his own well being in order to save an Afghan Soldier’s life.
Smothers’ actions can even better be appreciated when one considers the terrain that was the Bayonets’ battle-space.
“When on patrol in Panjwai, the IED threat was so significant that you had to walk single file,” Kitching said. “If you stepped to the left or the right of the person in front of you, even one step, you could get your leg blown off -- I’ve seen it.”
So even moving to go get his fallen brethren was an extreme act of heroism for Smothers, who had no idea what would happen if he left the cleared path. Regardless, he did not hesitate to do so.
“The best way I can think to describe Smothers’ actions is to say they were extremely selfless; his regard for someone else’s well being over his own was overwhelming,” said 1st Sgt. James Ott, who is the current senior enlisted leader of Company B, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd ABCT, but at the time was Smothers platoon sergeant, and was on the ground with Smothers during the battle in which Smothers was recognized.
Ott did not seem as if he was surprised that day by Smothers’ actions though, despite the level of bravery displayed.
“[Smothers] is very intelligent, physically fit, the whole nine -- he is pretty much everything you’d want in a young Infantry Soldier,” said Ott. “You should know, that was just one of many such acts that Smothers did, it just happens that this is the one that stuck out a little more than the others, so a citation was written for it.”
After the reading of the citations and the award presentation, Evans and Smothers were each individually given a chance to speak.
“I’m not really big for speeches,” said Evans.
Both Soldiers kept it brief, mostly just thanking their fellow Bayonet Brothers, who served with them side by side at Sperwan Ghar, in the Panjwai district.
Indeed it is not surprising that it was their brothers in arms they thanked, as it had taken the whole of the Bayonet Company and then some to get them through their nine-month deployment.
During their deployment, the Bayonets proved to be a tough bunch, as they were the only U.S. Army unit to occupy and hold that piece of terrain in Afghanistan for an entire deployment. The battle was so hard fought, that of the 270 days they were there, they took part in 208 firefights.
“These young men performed exceptionally, and I could not be more proud of what they did in circumstances which sometimes may have seemed insurmountable,” said Kitching.
The Bayonets themselves do seem to be an exceptional group. Their collective medal count right now is at 28 Purple Hearts, 28 Army Commendation medals with "V" device, 13 BSM with "V" device, and one Silver Star Medal, and they are still counting.
Perhaps though, the medals and the citations don’t sum up the results of the Bayonets sacrifice and determination as well as Evans’ closing remark at Smothers’ and his ceremony.
“Together, there is nothing that we can’t accomplish now, looking at all we were able to accomplish together while we were there.”