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Harrowing mission earns captain Silver Star

Dec. 23, 2012 - 02:05PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 23, 2012 - 02:05PM  |  
Command Sgt. Maj. Russell K. Reimers, CSM for the 1st Brigade 1st Armored Division, embraces Cpt. Kevin W. Mott, the assistant operations officer for 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, after Mott received the Silver Star medal on Dec. 11.
Command Sgt. Maj. Russell K. Reimers, CSM for the 1st Brigade 1st Armored Division, embraces Cpt. Kevin W. Mott, the assistant operations officer for 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, after Mott received the Silver Star medal on Dec. 11. ()
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When Capt. Kevin Mott returned to camp from a harrowing nine-day mission with the 101st Airborne Division in eastern Afghanistan last year, he never expected to be nominated for a Bronze Star with valor, let alone have it upgraded to Silver Star. But that's how it happened.

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When Capt. Kevin Mott returned to camp from a harrowing nine-day mission with the 101st Airborne Division in eastern Afghanistan last year, he never expected to be nominated for a Bronze Star with valor, let alone have it upgraded to Silver Star. But that's how it happened.

Mott, 27, received a Silver Star from 1st Armored Division commander Maj. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard in a Dec. 11 ceremony at Fort Bliss, Texas, a week before Mott boarded a plane to the Middle East for his third deployment to Afghanistan.

According to his citation, Mott repeatedly put himself in the line of enemy fire so his unit could move throughout the target area, then helped to pick coordinates for an airstrike to end the attack.

"I just want to stress that I wasn't running around out there like a big tough guy," he told Army Times. "Everybody had their part, everybody helped each other out. We just wanted to accomplish the mission and take care of each other."

Mott received the military's third-highest honor for his actions as a platoon leader with 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) in a mission to clear an insurgent stronghold from March 28 to April 6, 2011.

Five days after Task Force No Slack returned from the mission, then-International Security Assistance Force commander Gen. David Petraeus visited Forward Operating Base Joyce in Kunar province to present the soldiers with valor awards for Operation Strong Eagle 3.

He presented Mott with an end-of-deployment medal, while company commander Capt. Edward B. Bankston and squad leader Sgt. Joshua Bostic received Silver Stars.

Once Mott's Bronze Star with valor nomination made its way to the brigade level, it was upgraded to Silver Star.

Mott's second Afghanistan deployment had been plenty eventful even before that mission. In June 2010, insurgents mounted an ambush on Mott's unit from nine positions.

"We started in the middle of the fighting season and we took it on the chin with the first mission we did," he said.

A bullet grazed his head, and he tumbled down a mountainside and sustained four fractured vertebrae, a broken rib, a broken ankle, a torn shoulder ligament and a traumatic brain injury.

After five months of intense physical therapy and 50 sutures and staples to close his head wounds, he rejoined his unit. Then came the orders to clear an insurgent compound known as the home base for Taliban kingpin Qari Zia Rahman.

"Throughout the deployment, we had heard and seen that there was an insurgency haven just barely inside the border with Pakistan, on the Afghan side," Mott said. "Insurgents were able to go, kind of hang out, resupply, rest, relax, all that good stuff."

The battalion's orders were to clear the stronghold during the final weeks of their deployment, to slow the insurgents enough to give the unit replacing them some time to adjust in relative peace.

On March 28, the unit rappelled from helicopters into the valley under cover of night. Mott said the steep terrain forced them to wait until morning to move in. It was a minor setback at the time, but it was the first in a pattern.

"On a lot of the missions that we did there, whenever the women and children were observed leaving the villages, walking out into the valley, that meant that things were probably not going to go well," Mott said. "At first light, we heard they were walking out."

Mott's company set about clearing buildings in the compound. The soldiers found a few women and children who had stayed behind and enough mortars and rocket-propelled grenades to fill a warehouse.

"Every time we stacked up the pile, someone in my group would stumble upon more," he said. "They were hiding this crap all over the place — digging at the base of trees, tying it up in the limbs of trees."

Things went bad with the weather. Despite the decent forecast, a storm blew in as one of Mott's sergeants moved to clear the third building. Radios went off-station, and the helicopters standing by had to leave the area.

"I remember standing at this cache site with all of these weapons and hearing off in the distance somebody shooting, and I could hear what sounded like a Barrett [semi-automatic rifle] from a scout platoon," Mott recalled.

Mott ordered his men to get inside just as "the entire valley opened up with fire." Insurgents ambushed one of Mott's squads, mortally wounding Staff Sgt. Ofren Arrechaga. Spc. Steven Trimm was shot through the hand but managed to treat his own wounds on-site.

"The insurgents — I've heard maybe somewhere around 200 guys — attacked roughly five or six U.S. positions within three, four, five minutes of each other," Mott said. "That's when things got pretty busy."

He called in relief for his two soldiers and a wounded Afghan soldier in their group. Sgts. Eric Mendez and Jeremy Sizemore headed over with medic Spc. Jameson Lindskog.

Lindskog treated Arrechaga and Trimm's wounds, then set about caring for the Afghan soldier. Mendez took two bullets to his chest, but his body armor did its job, so he picked up his rifle and returned fire.

Then, Mott said, Lindskog suddenly slumped over.

He had been shot, but he continued to give directions so the other men could care for the Afghan soldier.

"After 30 minutes, he told [Staff] Sgt. [Kellis] Richardson he was sorry, he couldn't fight anymore, and he died," Mott said.

Lindskog's mother and father accepted a Silver Star for their son's actions. Mott, who met his medic three days before they dropped into that valley, read the citation at the ceremony.

Mott said violence ebbed a few days into the mission. He learned that Arrechaga hadn't survived, and decided to keep that information to himself.

"Some of the younger guys, some of the team leaders, were starting to get nervous about the mission," he said. "One of them made the comment that he didn't want to lead the platoon as the point guy because he didn't want to get anybody killed."

Mott described Arrechaga as the rock of his platoon, a father figure that soldiers from other units looked to for advice.

"He had such a huge impact on the platoon, and I was really worried that, based off some of the guys' behavior, everybody was already stressed out enough and crushed enough that he was wounded," he said. "I thought it was better to tell everybody once we got back."

As the battalion moved west, away from the Pakistan border, the intensity waned.

Despite the morale hit of the first few days, Mott said his guys all stepped up and stayed focused through the rest of the mission.

"It's definitely bittersweet. You set out, you accomplish what you meant to do, but that was at the cost of six dudes," he said. "Six guys' lives, who were going to go home in a few weeks."

The area was cleared, and Qari Zia Rahman fled to Pakistan, where days later he called in to the Pakistani media outlet The News to report his survival.

"Listening to some of the reports, it sounded like we really did disrupt the insurgents in the area, set them back a while so that the next unit had some time to get used to things," Mott said.

He is gracious about his award, but he's quick to emphasize the myriad Silver Stars, Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts awarded for that mission. He's still following up to make sure the rest of his guys get their due. He said Trimm, who was shot through the hand in the first minutes of the ambush, is awaiting a response to his Silver Star nomination.

"We're all really proud of what everybody did, and we just want to make sure that everybody gets recognized," Mott said.

Mott is days into another deployment to Afghanistan, his first full one, as assistant operations officer for a rifle battalion in a Stryker brigade: 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.

"I should take a [commanding officer position] at some point — that'll be pretty exciting," he said. "I'll be happy to be off of staff and back with the guys."

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