Members of a special operations team prepare to fight insurgents during an attack at Bagram Airfield's perimeter on May 19, 2010. Master Sgt. William Dickinson, far right, was recognized with the Silver Star during a ceremony in Stuttgart, Germany, in mid-June. (Photo courtesy of Special Operations Command Europ)
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Staff Sgt. Adam Dorner (Photo courtesy of 10th Group Public Affairs)
When insurgents attacked, two Green Berets helped turn surprise enemy assaults into bloody insurgent losses in Afghanistan last year.
In May 2010, Master Sgt. William J. Dickinson's team foiled an attempted siege at Bagram Airfield. Weeks later, Staff Sgt. Adam Dorner's patrol repelled a roadside ambush in Logar province.
For their courage, the Army formally awarded them Silver Stars during a ceremony at Patch Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, on June 13 before a crowd of nearly 300, according to a release from Special Operations Command Europe. Adm. Eric Olson, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, made the presentation.
Both men were serving with the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
Dickinson acted as an operations sergeant for Special Operations Task Unit 0112, based in Kapisa province. Dorner served as a primary tactical adviser for the Logar Afghan National Police Provincial Response Company.
"They are men who are humble in their daily life yet extraordinary in every aspect of combat. These are men of deeds and not words," Maj. Gen. Michael Repass, SOCEUR commander, said at the ceremony, according to the release.
Dickinson and his five-man team had returned to Bagram Airfield around dawn on May 19, 2010, when gunfire and explosions erupted at the base's northern edge.
Insurgents were firing rocket-propelled grenades at guard towers and had broken through concertina atop the base's outer wall. Choppers overhead unleashed a wave of 30mm fire at the invaders, Dickinson told the Army Times.
When his team arrived, they began "clearing" the Bagram-side of the wall. They dodged enemy grenades lobbed over the wall and countered with a volley of their own. They then saw three incapacitated insurgents inside the wire. They were wearing U.S. Army Combat Uniforms and suicide vests, toting rocket-propelled grenades and AK47s.
For the first time in his career, Dickinson was fighting enemy in friendly uniforms, and it caused him grave concern.
"It was immediately problematic," he said. "Had they gotten through the wire, they would pretty much have had free rein to get their suicide bombers in anywhere they wanted, potentially."
The situation elevated his response, he said. Dickinson decided to climb the wall and cut the wire to jump down and clear "dead space" behind the wall, where he figured the tower gunners might have trouble recognizing ACU-dressed insurgents from soldiers.
Perched on the wall, with two other team members, Dickinson felt extremely vulnerable while cutting the wire, but knew it was necessary.
"We were just sitting up there waiting to get shot," he said. "What drove me to get past it is simply business needed to be done."
Once they cut the wire, Dickinson dropped a grenade below and engaged two enemies against the wall. He saw and shot another insurgent who had detonation cord sticking out of his jacket and looked to be arming himself, Dickinson said.
The soldiers jumped down and cleared the area. Later, a report came down about 20 insurgents grouping for an attack on the south side of the base.
The team added a few reinforcements and departed in search of the fighters, with Dickinson at the point. Not long into the patrol, a land mine blew off one soldier's foot. Dickinson snapped into action, giving the soldier morphine, twisting a tourniquet around his leg and hoisting him over the wall to safety.
With a few soldiers still in the mine field, Dickinson plotted a safe path for them back to base with a mine detector. Then he ensured all casualties reached the hospital at the airfield, he said.
His actions resulted in the death of eight insurgents, according to Army documents. Dickinson is credited with saving at least one soldier's life.
"It showed my guys there is no stopping me to get to them in bad times," he said. "That solidified that I would stop at nothing to take care of business for my guys." Dickinson, 38, from Grand Junction, Colo., had previously earned a Bronze Star with a "V" device.
Dorner's route-reconnaissance patrol spotted an improvised explosive device near Baraki Barak in Logar province on Aug. 17, 2010. The unit began disposing of the bomb, while Dorner, as part of a dismounted team, provided security.
The bomb, it turned out, was a fake.
"They put that in place because they knew would we would stop to clear it," Dorner told Army Times. "That was their planned ambush."
About 40-50 fighters in a tree line and atop a dirt compound, opened fire, arcing mortars, launching RPGs and spraying machine-gun rounds.
Dorner returned fire and rushed to cover. But then the buffer spring assembly on his weapon broke. He announced over the radio he was headed for a mortar system in one of the vehicles. He dashed over 150 meters of flat, open terrain to the truck. Enemy rounds hitting the ground splashed dirt on him. He told himself "you need to press the fast-forward button," he later recalled.
With a teammate, he hung about 10 high-explosive mortars on enemy positions — using all the unit's 60mm rounds.
A brief lull fell over the battlefield before the enemy attacked again. Without a viable weapon, Dorner scrabbled for some firepower.
"Since my first broke and I was out of mortar ammo, I grabbed another gun and start getting back in the fight," he said.
Aircraft had strafed the ambush site earlier. But air fire was restricted with the sides "danger" close. Dorner's element decided an assault was in order.
He organized a maneuver team, which was joined by Afghan elements. The enemy continued to fight as the friendly units bounded forward. In the end, the teams traversed about 300 meters over mostly open terrain, and the enemy retreated.
Dorner defers credit for his heroics that day to his teammates.
"It was a whole team of ODA members doing their job. And that's the only thing that made this [award] possible." If they weren't professional, he added, "I would have stayed right there in that damn ditch."
Dorner, 29, of Midland, Texas, is credited with "directly enabling the safe return of all US and ANSF service members," according to his awards citation. He is also a Bronze Star recipient.