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Soldier recognized for courage, valor

1st SFG Soldier’s actions in separate firefights earn Silver, Bronze Stars

Northwest Guardian

Published: 01:45PM September 20th, 2012
Soldier recognized for courage, valor

Sgt. Memory E. Payne

Master Sgt. Michael S. Hunter, a team sergeant with 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) and a native of Canton, Ohio, was presented the Silver Star Medal by Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, I Corps Deputy Commanding General, Sep 12 at the 1st SFG (A) Memorial Wall.

Fighting back tears, Danielle Hunter expresses pride for her husband, Master Sgt. Michael S. Hunter, 1st Special Forces Group, the recent recipient of two of America’s highest combat awards for valor earned during the same 2010 deployment to Afghanistan.

‘He’s amazing. He’s the best role model that my kids could ever have,” Danielle said. “His bravery and everything he’s been through has shown my kids what it’s like to be a real hero.”

In a Sept. 12 ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Hunter was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star with V Device for his actions during two separate firefights while advising the Afghanistan Kandak. The awards were presented two days shy of the 17th anniversary of Hunter’s Army enlistment.

“Not many people can do what he did,” Danielle said. “And he didn’t do it for publicity. He did it because that’s what he was supposed to do. He believes in his country and he wants his men to get home safe.”

Under Heavy Fire

It was the early morning hours of April 6, 2010 and Hunter was about to become engaged in a firefight that would earn him a Silver Star, America’s third-highest award exclusively for combat valor.

Led by Hunter, a reconnaissance and surveillance element consisting of 28 Afghan commandos and four U.S. Special Forces Soldiers worked to pinpoint hardened insurgent positions in northwestern Afghanistan. The team identified a village that had been evacuated by local civilians and taken over by insurgents. As they moved in for closer observation, gunfire erupted.

“This (insurgent) stuck his head out of a gate with an AK-47 and just started spraying down the corridor,” Hunter said. “We returned fire and we could hear the howls that they use to signal each other.”

As they moved into the village, Hunter said he quickly realized that they were being surrounded by about 200 enemy insurgents who were fortified inside buildings with elaborate tunnel systems and portholes in the walls. “They had tunnels underneath the floors going into the next compound so every time you cleared something, they could come back through if you didn’t hold it,” Hunter said. “And we were getting shot at from every direction. It was a 360-degree firefight and we were right in the middle of it. We had stirred the hornet’s nest.”

Able to secure the outer perimeter of the compound, Hunter coordinated two successful medical evacuations while exposing himself to enemy fire.

Hunter then organized an assault force to clear insurgent tunnels, but the Afghan commandos became reluctant fighters after sustaining several casualties, refusing to return to the offensive. That’s when Hunter moved to the front and single-handedly fought off the insurgents with grenades and small arms fire. He continued to lead from the front, inspiring the commandos to continue the fight. It worked, and the commandos returned to the battle.

But the tunnel system was extensive, and the team was instructed to pull back so that the insurgents could be targeted from the air with bombs. They returned to the site a short time later to do battle damage assessment.

“We went back up there with a small element and as soon as we got up there, within seconds we were quickly surrounded and started receiving small arms fire all over again,” Hunter said.

Maintaining his composure, Hunter and his element pushed north to join another fighting element.

“(The insurgents) just kept coming in waves. And so we decided we needed to get into a better position to engage them,” Hunter said.

Once there, Hunter battled an estimated 30 to 40 insurgents on his own, and risked his life crossing an exposed stretch of road several times to help resupply his team.

“It just continued for the next 10 hours. We were in a direct engagement with them. Eventually we had to move back to the camp to refit because we didn’t have anything left to fight with,” Hunter said.

The shooting didn’t stop, however. All the way back to the base, the insurgents carried out an assault on Hunter’s element. During the withdrawal, Hunter took up exposed positions that protected Afghan commandos and other Special Forces from enemy fire.

“They never backed down or backed off. They just kept coming,” Hunter said. “We had a lot of respect, in that aspect, for who we were up against.”

Hunter’s team suffered no additional casualties during their withdrawal to the base. The insurgents lost 103 fighters that day.

“Throughout the entire 10-hour engagement, Sgt. Hunter repeatedly provided inspiration, leadership and guidance to both Special Operations Forces and Afghanistan Army Commandos,” the Silver Star citation reads. “His courageous actions all the way through the engagement kept momentum in the friendly force’s favor and were decisive to the successful outcome of the firefight.”

73 Days Later

Within 10 weeks of Hunter’s heroic actions on April 6, he would again find himself in a position where he would risk his life to ensure the safety of others, earning him a Bronze Star for valor.

Establishing a battle position in an abandoned compound, the aim of Hunter’s combined Afghan commando and Special Forces team on June 18, 2010, was to disrupt an entrenched and fortified Afghan insurgent cell. Hunter’s team was working in conjunction with another U.S. fighting element, located in an observation post at the top of a hill.

Only 20 minutes after securing the abandoned compound, the observation post began taking heavy, sustained fire.

“Once we heard one of our guys got shot, we immediately started to move toward the ridgeline. Then it was about another 300 to 400 meters up to get to the top,” Hunter said.

Sprinting to the top of the hill, Hunter suddenly realized he was scaling the hill alone. He looked back and could see the Special Forces Soldiers trying to encourage the Afghan commandos to follow Hunter. Afghan commandos pinned down on the ridgeline were communicating with their fellow commandos at the bottom of the hill, who were refusing to move.

At that point, Hunter said he had to do whatever he could to save his teammate. He continued to the top of the hill, pulling his fellow Soldier to safety and performing a needle decompression to help the injured man breathe. Despite gunfire rounds falling within inches of his position, Hunter then picked the Soldier up and carried him down the steep hill to a sheltered area.

Just a couple of hours later, Hunter helped save another Soldier who had been shot in the legs. After pulling the Soldier behind a vehicle for safety and applying a tourniquet, he provided cover fire during the medical evacuation. For another 14 hours, Hunter directed the assault from the hilltop.

“(Sergeant Hunter’s) courageous actions...were decisive to repelling a determined enemy assault and the successful treatment and evacuation of two critically injured U.S. Soldiers,” the Bronze Star citation reads. Later, one Afghan commando explained why he wavered at the bottom of the hill during the assault.

“These men are like lions,” the commando said of the U.S. Special Forces. “They do not feel fear like we feel fear.”

‘He served all of us’

During the ceremony, I Corps Deputy Commanding Gen. Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan described Hunter as the “epitome of loyalty.”

“To me, loyalty is all about allegiance. It’s about an unswerving faithfulness that doesn’t shake, doesn’t waver, even when the conditions get as bad as they could possibly get,” Buchanan said.

Hunter’s 2010 deployment to Afghanistan was a tough one, Buchanan said, since the mission included so many unknowns. But even after discovering how strong the insurgent positions were and engaging with an enemy that pursued his men relentlessly, Hunter didn’t falter.

“He was loyal to that mission, and he accomplished it to the end,” Buchanan said.

Recounting Hunter’s seven operational deployments, Buchanan noted that Hunter chose to serve, even when he didn’t have to.

“In so doing, he served all of us,” Buchanan said. “And he continues to serve all of us.”