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Fallen Rangers get Silver Stars for saving 20 Afghans

May. 29, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Sgt. Ronald A. Kubik, 21, died Logar province, Afghanistan. ()
Sgt. Jason A. Santora, 25, died in Logar province, Afghanistan. ()

The Rangers and their Afghan partners swarmed into the enemy compound, on the hunt for a suicide attack facilitator.

The Rangers and their Afghan partners swarmed into the enemy compound, on the hunt for a suicide attack facilitator.

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The Rangers and their Afghan partners swarmed into the enemy compound, on the hunt for a suicide attack facilitator.

Three enemy fighters were killed almost immediately, and two others remained barricaded on the second floor inside the house. In the courtyard, about 20 women and children, terrified by the fighting, refused to move toward the Americans to safety.

Sgt. Ronald A. Kubik and Sgt. Jason A. Santora rushed into the house, placing themselves between the enemy and the women and children.

“In just a matter of seconds … I start hearing gunshots,” said Sgt. 1st Class Chad Willcox, who was Kubik’s and Santora’s platoon sergeant. “We were taking such a heavy amount of fire down the stairwell, we at first thought it was a machine gun.”

Kubik and Santora placed themselves directly in the line of fire, suffering multiple gunshot wounds, so their fellow Rangers and the Afghan soldiers could move the women and children to safety.

Kubik, 21, and Santora, 25, were killed that night. Kubik was posthumously awarded the Silver Star during a ceremony May 21 at Fort Benning, Ga. Santora also was awarded the nation’s third-highest award for valor. His family accepted the award two years ago.

Several other Rangers from 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, were recognized during the ceremony. The awards included three Bronze Stars with “V” device, a Joint Service Commendation Medal with “V” device, an Army Commendation Medal with “V” device, and four Purple Hearts.

On April 23, 2010, Rangers from 1st Platoon, D Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, were in Logar province, Afghanistan. Their mission that night was to capture or kill a man who had been facilitating suicide attacks against coalition forces.

“When we got to the location, based on the intel we had at the time, we weren’t sure ... which house he was in,” Willcox said.

Three enemy fighters were killed “very quickly,” Willcox said, and the Americans and their Afghan partners kept moving to find their target.

At one of the two target compounds, the troops were able to get the women and children out into the courtyard, where one enemy fighter lay dead, Willcox said.

“The women and children started to get loud,” he said. “They were scared. They were very afraid [and] we couldn’t get them to come to us.”

Inside the house, the Americans knew there were at least two enemy fighters holed up on the second floor, and they decided the women and children had to be “physically removed” for their safety, according to the narrative accompanying Kubik’s Silver Star.

“I wasn’t six feet away from the women and children, but we just couldn’t get them out to us,” Willcox said. “We had to get them out of the way to do what we needed.”

When the Afghan soldiers stepped into the courtyard to remove the women and children, some of them ran back into the house, Willcox said.

The Afghan soldiers went after them, with Kubik and Santora close behind, he said.

“Kubik immediately went to the stairwell to lock down the breach,” Willcox said. “We formed a human chain to get the women and children out of the house.”

The two enemy fighters began firing down the stairwell at the soldiers.

“I can still see the flashes, and I can still see Sgt. Kubik going up the stairs,” he said.

Kubik held his position and “refused to give any ground to the enemy,” according to the narrative accompanying his award.

Kubik was struck seven times with armor-piercing rounds, but he “knew that the lives of fellow [soldiers] and local national women and children depended on him holding his ground,” according to the narrative.

Meanwhile, Santora was two steps down the stairwell from Kubik, Willcox said.

Using his body as a shield, Santora helped move women and children out of the house, passing them on to the human chain of his fellow Rangers and the Afghan soldiers.

“I knew he had been hit for sure,” Willcox said. “Kubik was still firing and yelling.”

Santora was hit five times.

“As I watched Santora start to fall, I saw him push the kids out of the way,” Willcox said. “What was so insane to me was the kids were fighting him, they were so scared.”

The two enemy fighters tried to escape, but they were killed. Also killed that night was the suicide attack facilitator.

Kubik, who was on his third deployment, and Santora, who was on his fourth, were always together, Willcox said.

“It was like Santora was the big brother and Kubik was the little brother,” he said. “If they weren’t where they were, I know for a fact more of us would have been hurt.”

Willcox said the Silver Star validates their actions that night.

“We all talk about them all the time and what they did that night, but now more people will understand how important what they did was,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a very long time, and what they did that night is still the bravest thing I’ve seen anyone do on target.”■

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