Lt. Col. Jason Amerine and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., pictured, say they will appeal to the Army to grant four A-team members the Silver Star for infiltrating Afghanistan in 2001 and aiding Harmid Karzai. (Staff file photo)
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A congressman and the former commander for an A-team of soldiers who infiltrated Afghanistan and aided Hamid Karzai in the early days of the war said they will appeal to the Army to grant four team members the Silver Star.
Lt. Col. Jason Amerine and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., have teamed up to resubmit the original award recommendation records, which the Army cannot find.
Hunter, a Marine combat veteran and advocate for transparency in the awards process, said in an email to Army Times it is likely the soldiers were robbed of the Silver Star because of an Army mix-up.
In the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, the four men were part of Operation Detachment Alpha 574, which infiltrated Taliban territory, organized Karzai's militia and advised it in a series of battles to control southern Afghanistan, often against vastly superior numbers.
"What made their mission unique was that there was no standing Army and there were no safe havens," Amerine, the former commander of ODA 574, 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group, told Army Times. "They operated behind enemy lines and a true unconventional mission."
On Dec. 5, 2001, at the end of the monthlong mission and two days before the fall of Kandahar, a friendly fire bomb attack killed two members of the 12-man ODA 574, and the team left the country. Nine other unit members were wounded in the blast. Karzai, also wounded, became president of Afghanistan in 2004.
On the day after the blast, Amerine recommended the Silver Star for the two soldiers who were killed, http://www.militarytimes.com/valor/army-master-sgt-jefferson-d-davis/262928">Master Sgt. Jefferson Davis and http://www.militarytimes.com/valor/army-sgt-1st-class-daniel-h-petithory/262920">Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Petithory.
Later that month, Amerine recommended awards for the rest of the unit, including Staff Sgt. Alan Yoshida, an Air Force combat controller attached to the unit, who received the Silver Star.
Amerine also recommended Sgts. 1st Class Ronnie Raikes, Michael McElhiney and Gilbert Magallanes, and then-Sgt. Wes McGirr for the Silver Star. McGirr had been shot in the neck and flown to a hospital 12 hours before the bomb blast.
They are the four whose paperwork is being resubmitted.
"Their valorous actions warrant the Silver Star," Amerine said. "Whether or not they actually receive it, I'll be convinced that they should have."
Amerine said he twice recommended nearly every member of the team for the Silver Star for valor. But the Army says the award was deliberately downgraded by the soldiers' chain of command to the Bronze Star.
New questions over the awards emerged more than a decade later, when three of the men Raikes, McElhiney and Magallanes were listed as Silver Star recipients in an awards database improperly posted online by a contractor. (McGirr was not on the list.)
The exposed database, since removed, contained nine more Silver Stars than the Defense Department's public listings. Army Secretary John McHugh has since suggested that some of the awards were clandestine but that Raikes, McElhiney and Magallanes were listed in error.
Since the breach became public in September, Hunter has pressed the Army for answers, dissatisfied with the official explanation that their inclusion was a "typo."
"Somewhere along the way, these … soldiers were either denied awards they have received or given awards that they knew nothing about," Hunter said. "In this case, they were put in for Silver Stars, not once but twice, and the Army had them listed as Silver Star recipients. That's not just a ‘typo,' as the Army explained."
McHugh, in a recent letter to Hunter, explained that the Awards and Decorations Branch has no record of any submission for Silver Stars for the soldiers. However, documentation in their personnel files indicates the awards were downgraded deliberately.
Amerine said he was originally told by superiors the four men would receive the Bronze Star on an interim basis, and to later resubmit his recommendations. He believes his resubmission was lost amid "the chaos of 2001."
He now plans to provide the Army with his original records of the Silver Star submissions. But it's not so simple.
Army policy allows for reconsideration of awards, but the request must contain new, substantive material that was not previously considered by the awarding authority.
"It's so bureaucratic, but I don't think my chance is zero," Amerine said. "Maybe it's 20 percent or 30 percent."