Silver Star recipient Army Sgt. Peter Cimpoes salutes during the national anthem at the March 20 awards ceremony at Saint Martin's University in Lacey, Wash. (Tony Overman/The (Olympia, Wash.) Olympian via AP)
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Under heavy enemy fire, Spc. Ricardo Cerros Jr. dragged his wounded platoon sergeant out of harm’s way, using his own body to shield his comrade from an enemy grenade.
The blast, in a narrow alleyway filled with dust and smoke, killed the young specialist with 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
For his actions on that night in 2011 in Afghanistan, Cerros, 24, was posthumously honored with the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest award for valor.
During a ceremony Wednesday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Cerros’ parents accepted the award from Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, commanding general of I Corps.
Also recognized was former Sgt. Peter S. Cimpoes, who received the Silver Star for risking his life to evacuate two seriously wounded comrades during another mission.
Seven other Rangers from 2nd Battalion received the Bronze Star with “V” device, one received the Joint Service Commendation Medal with “V” device, four were awarded the Army Commendation Medal with “V” device, and 11 were awarded the Purple Heart.
Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Moore was the platoon sergeant Cerros saved that night in Logar province, Afghanistan.
The Silver Star was “absolutely the right answer,” said Moore, who suffered multiple gunshot and shrapnel wounds during that mission. “We can recognize the sacrifice he made and the gallantry he showed that night.”
Staff Sgt. Sean Keough, who was Cerros’ squad leader and who previously received the Silver Star for the same mission, agreed.
“I think it’s really important that [Cerros’] family is here,” Keough said. “It gives us a chance to show them our true appreciation for what he did.”
On Oct. 7, 2011, Moore and his soldiers had cleared one compound and were pushing to an adjacent compound through the only way in, a narrow alleyway leading to a dead end.
When Moore pushed open the door to the compound, several enemy fighters in fortified positions began firing at the Rangers, Keough said.
Moore was hit almost immediately, and an insurgent came charging out at the soldiers, Keough said.
Keough and another Ranger shot the insurgent while Cerros grabbed Moore, who had been shot twice, and pulled him out of the doorway.
“I went into the door to secure it, and there were multiple guys barricaded inside who opened up on us,” Keough said.
Because of the dead end, the Rangers couldn’t break contact.
“There was a wall of bullets coming at us,” Keough said. “Cerros was between Moore and me and he was positioning himself as a shield.”
Keough got hit in his right arm, but he held his position and kept fighting until several other Rangers arrived.
The soldiers threw at least two grenades into the compound, and the enemy responded by throwing out one of their own grenades, Keough said.
“There was so much dust kicked up, we couldn’t see where the grenade was,” he said. “Everybody was within 10 feet of this grenade we couldn’t see.”
Keough yelled, “Grenade!” and pulled another Ranger behind a small piece of cover. Moore, Cerros and Staff Sgt. Garrett Manske were in the open.
“I heard Sgt. Keough say, ‘Grenade’ and I’m sitting in the alleyway and all I can do is roll over to my left side,” Moore said. “I remember feeling the weight of Cerros and his kit on me.”
Cerros and Manske, who would receive the Bronze Star with “V,” shielded Moore from the blast.
“That grenade was probably within arm’s distance from them,” Keough said.
As the dust settled, Moore said he remembers Cerros falling away from him.
“I knew that I was hurt pretty bad, but I was more concerned for Cerros,” Moore said.
His ears ringing from the explosion, and his leg peppered with shrapnel, Keough moved back into the doorway and continued to fight.
The Rangers eventually turned the tide against the insurgents, giving the medics enough time to evacuate Moore, Cerros and Manske. After the wounded were evacuated, the Rangers, including Keough, who refused medical attention, continued to fight, eventually clearing the compound.
Today, Keough has fully recovered from his gunshot wound and has since deployed a ninth time.
Moore, who has deployed 14 times, still struggles with nerve damage in his right thigh, but his arm has recovered.
Cerros, who joined the Army in July 2010, is survived by his father and stepmother, mother and three siblings.
Fighting to the wounded
Cimpoes, who left the Army in November, said he doesn’t deserve the Silver Star.
“I knew that everyone behind me would have done the same thing, and probably better or faster than me,” he said.
His former platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Steven Galvez, disagrees.
“Everybody saw what he did that night,” he said. “It was extremely important to me for him to get [the Silver Star]. His actions on that night speak for themselves.”
On Oct. 11, 2012, Galvez and his soldiers were conducting a raid in Ghazni province. Gunfire broke out as the soldiers prepared to enter a second compound at the objective, and two soldiers on the rooftop were seriously wounded, Cimpoes said.
“Without hesitation, Sgt. Cimpoes quickly climbed up a ladder ... directly in line with the enemy fire,” according to the narrative accompanying his award. “Sgt. Cimpoes placed himself under direct fire and simultaneously engaged three heavily armed enemy combatants barricaded on the second floor of the target compound.”
Cimpoes linked up with Staff Sgt. Jonah Herd on the rooftop and saw an enemy fighter lying next to Sgt. Thomas MacPherson. Cimpoes fired at the enemy fighter and then pulled another wounded soldier, Pfc. Sean Pesce, to cover.
“He was conscious and he was oddly calm, just from the state of shock he was in,” Cimpoes said. “He said he couldn’t feel his legs. I tried to put a tourniquet on him, but more gunshots rang out.”
Cimpoes turned toward the gunfire and, alongside Herd, began engaging the enemy. As other soldiers moved Pesce off the roof, Cimpoes yelled out for MacPherson.
“He said he was hit, and I knew I had to get closer to him because his voice was getting pretty faint,” Cimpoes said.
MacPherson was in front of the breach, where the enemy was shooting from a few feet away, according to the narrative accompanying the Silver Star.
“Cimpoes made a split second and selfless decision to make his way to Sgt. MacPherson and move him to safety,” the narrative states.
As he moved toward his comrade, Cimpoes saw another enemy fighter and killed him. He then saw another enemy fighter trying to crawl to a better location from which to shoot the soldiers.
Cimpoes threw two grenades into the building, buying time for his fellow Rangers to move MacPherson to safety. Galvez said he remembers seeing Cimpoes running, without regard for his own safety, to get to that ladder and his wounded comrades.
“Instead of running away, he ran toward the gunfire,” said Galvez, who will deploy this summer for the 10th time.
MacPherson later died from his wounds. Pesce survived but cannot use his legs, Galvez said.
“This happened less than six months ago,” said Galvez, who received the Bronze Star with “V” for his actions during that mission. “I think I speak for everyone when I say everyone would give back their award just to have that day back.”