Silver Star Medal Goes to 5th BCT Soldier

Courtesy Story

Date: 08.13.2004
Posted: 08.18.2004 14:41
News ID: 251

CAMP FERRIN-HUGGINS, Iraq -- The 1st Cavalry Division's first Silver Star Medal for valor in combat during this deployment was presented to a 5th Brigade Combat Team Soldier, Aug. 13.

Pfc. Christopher Fernandez, of Battery A, 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery Regiment, stood proudly in front of his entire brigade as the division's commanding general pinned on the small medal with red, white and blue ribbon.

Fernandez said his family was proud, that they had even told members of his church back home about his award, but he didn't know if they understood that the Silver Star was a big deal. "It's a great honor," said Fernandez a Multiple Launch Rocket System crewman in Battery A, 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery Regiment. "I never thought it would happen."

The Silver Star is the Army's fifth highest medal for valor and the third highest during combat and is rarely given to enlisted Soldiers, much less privates. Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the First Team's commanding general, said Fernandez embodied the Army values of Selfless Service and Courage.

"Pfc. Christopher Fernandez is a hero," Chiarelli said. "He represents the best of us. He embodies the Army Values and the Warrior Ethos."Fernandez was awarded the Silver Star for actions he had taken on the night of May 5, when his unit came under attack. Fernandez, a Tucson, Ariz. native, was on a patrol through the city's Saidiyah neighborhood when insurgents ambushed his unit. An improvised explosive device hit the patrol's rear vehicle.

Immediately following the explosion, the patrol was barraged with small-arms fire. The patrol's crew-served weapons, a M-240B machine gun and a .50-caliber machine gun, immediately returned fire. Two U.S. Soldiers were killed and five others were wounded in the IED explosion and their vehicle was inoperable. Fernandez returned fire with his weapon, an M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon. He reloaded his weapon at least once during the short engagement, said Capt. Thomas Pugsley, Battery A's commander.

"There was a tremendous volume of fire coming at them," Pugsley said.In all the chaos, Fernandez saw the stricken vehicle's M-240B machine gun was unused. Acting on instinct, Fernandez knew that another weapon would suppress the enemy's fire long enough to evacuate the wounded and leave the area. He left his vehicle, ran to the disabled humvee and recovered the weapon and its ammunition. Fernandez then opened fire on the enemy. What made all of that spectacular was the recovered weapon's condition, said Pugsley.

The hand guards covering the machine-gun's barrel, so the gunner's hands won't burn, were blown off in the explosion. That didn't matter to Fernandez though; he kept firing even though his hands were burning.

Almost 10 minutes later, the wounded were loaded onto the Fernandez's vehicle and the ambush site abandoned. Pugsley said two other Soldiers were recommended for Bronze Stars with Valor devices for their actions that night. One received it; the other received an Army Commendation with V device, he said. But to 1st Lt. Ryan Swindell, Fernandez's platoon leader, and Pugsley, Fernandez's actions during those hectic minutes warranted a Silver Star."He bought those Soldiers time," Pugsley said.