Kentucky National Guard Capt. Shannon Ison received the Silver Star for his actions in Afghanistan while deployed with Task Force Workhorse in 2008. Ison was presented his medal during the Kentucky National Guard's annual Leadership Development Program on Feb. 10 at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville. (Kentucky National Guard)
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Capt. Shannon Ison's instincts kicked in as enemy fire rained down on his patrol.
Ignoring the enemy barrage, Ison jumped from the safety of his mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle and repeatedly braved enemy fire to pull three wounded soldiers out of harm's way.
For his actions on that day in Afghanistan, Ison was awarded the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest award for valor, during a ceremony Feb. 10.
"It's very humbling," Ison said, "especially when you think of everything that other soldiers did that you thought were just as brave and just as honorable."
Ison, a 43-year-old member of the Kentucky National Guard who is a firefighter and paramedic in his civilian life, downplayed his actions.
"I guess that's the way my brain is wired," he said. "I just saw people who needed help."
On Aug. 16, 2008, Ison, a lieutenant and platoon leader at the time, and his soldiers from the 201st Engineer Battalion were on their way back to Forward Operating Base Warrior in eastern Afghanistan after an intense seven-day mission.
The route-clearance soldiers were tasked with helping soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment close a fire base and move equipment by road back to FOB Warrior.
About 12 miles from the FOB, the patrol came across a large wadi, or dry riverbed.
"The bridge had been blown off, and we couldn't cross it," Ison said. "It was maybe 40 feet across and 20 feet deep."
The soldiers spread out to search for a low crossing area. The soldiers from the 101st Airborne found a clearing and began to cross the wadi near a culvert, Ison said.
The first vehicle crossed safely, but the second, a Humvee, struck an improvised explosive device. The explosion threw the gunner out of the truck.
"Once it was hit, it initiated a large ambush," Ison said.
Enemy fighters fired rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and AK-47s at the Americans while the men in the blown-up Humvee lay wounded with broken bones, concussions and burns.
Ison, whose MRAP was about 360 feet away from the burning Humvee, ordered his driver to get as close as possible to the scene.
"The occupants hadn't gotten out, and it was smoking and burning," Ison said. "They were taking a lot of small-arms fire. I got out and gave aid, helped two soldiers out, and I went back to get the third one."
As Ison moved the wounded to cover, an RPG landed near the soldiers, further wounding one of them, according to the citation accompanying Ison's award.
Ison quickly applied medical care to the wounded soldier and led his platoon in firing back at the enemy, according to the citation.
Even as enemy rounds struck around him, Ison said not much was running through his mind as his training kicked in.
"The funny thing was, the day before I received the Silver Star, my driver called to congratulate me," Ison said. "We were talking about it and he said, ‘I could see it in your eyes that I wasn't going to stop you.'"
The ambush lasted about an hour, Ison said, as the soldiers fought to save their brothers and recover the burned-out Humvee.
When they finally got back to FOB Warrior, Ison said, he was more concerned with making sure his soldiers received the proper recognition for their actions.
"We were engaged with the enemy pretty much constantly for seven straight days," Ison said about that mission. "We cleared nine IEDs off the route, and we had 19 [troops in contact incidents], and I couldn't tell you how many indirect fires called on us, all during those seven days."
Ison's soldiers received a number of valor awards from that mission, including the Bronze Star with "V" device and the Army Commendation Medal with "V" device.
"I couldn't say enough about my soldiers," Ison said. "They're some of the best soldiers I ever had the privilege of being around. I'm proud of my soldiers more than I'm proud of me."