As the bullets rained down around him, Staff Sgt. Michael Sargent dragged a fallen Afghan soldier to safety.
Then, without hesitation or concern about his own safety, the Green Beret entered the courtyard in southern Afghanistan again to recover the body of a second fallen Afghan soldier and help a wounded teammate get to cover.
For his actions on that day in December, Sargent was awarded the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest award for valor.
Sargent and several other members of A Company, 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group were honored last Friday for their actions during their recent deployment to Afghanistan.
In all, the soldiers earned the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars with V device, six Army Commendation Medals with V device, and one Purple Heart.
"These men are heroes, plain and simple," said Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, adjutant general of the Washington National Guard, during the ceremony, according to information released by the Army. "They don't boast. They don't draw undue attention to themselves. They just get the job done."
The men of A Company deployed to Afghanistan in July, and they were tasked with developing and partnering with members of the Afghan National Security Forces.
Their teammate, Sgt. 1st Class Matthew McClintock, 30, was killed Jan. 5 in hours-long fighting near the city of Marjah, in Afghanistan's Helmand province. McClintock was posthumously promoted and awarded the Silver Star for his actions on that day; McClintock's wife, Alexandra, has said her husband's teammates told her he left a compound, under fire, to find a new landing zone so a helicopter could land and evacuate a wounded teammate.
Many of the awards presented last week were to McClintock's teammates for their actions during that same battle.
"The men we honored today, including those who were unable to be with us, represent the best of what is inside all of those who serve this great nation," said Maj. Aron Horiel, commander of A Company, according to the Army. "It is truly an honor and a privilege to be their commander."
Sgt. 1st Class Matthew McClintock posthumously received the Silver Star.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Alexandra McClintock
Sargent, a Special Forces engineer sergeant, was awarded the Silver Star for his actions on Dec. 17.
On that day, Sargent was an assault team leader during a clearing operation in Khan Neshin Valley in Helmand province, according to the narrative accompanying his award.
Early that morning, Sargent and his fellow Green Berets were accompanying a team of Afghan commandos as they entered a courtyard adjacent to their objective, according to the narrative. A brief firefight broke out, and two Afghan soldiers were killed.
The remaining commandos reported back to their Green Beret mentors. Initial reports were unclear if the two Afghan casualties were killed or wounded, but the Afghans informed the Americans that the courtyard was clear, according to the narrative.
Sargent and three others entered the courtyard to help recover the two Afghan soldiers. After confirming the two men were dead, "the element came under intense automatic weapons fire at very close range from firing positions in a structure adjacent to the courtyard," according to the narrative.
Two Americans were wounded in the initial burst of fire. That left Sargent and another soldier alone in the courtyard, according to the narrative.
"With total disregard for his safety, SSG Sargent moved to the casualty closest to his position, retrieved the body and dragged the deceased [Afghan] soldier out of the courtyard under a hail of gunfire," the narrative says. "Upon exiting the courtyard to relative safety, SSG Sargent returned into the courtyard without hesitation and recovered the second body and aided the remaining teammate still under fire."
During this time, a fire to the structure containing the enemy firing position began to burn, setting off "large secondary explosions," according to the narrative.
"Again with total disregard for his safety, SSG Sargent moved through intense enemy fire and secondary explosions and employed two hand grenades into the fighting position to cover the withdrawal of his team members," the narrative says.
When the enemy tried to "assault out of the fighting positions," Sargent and his remaining teammate killed five of them, according to the narrative.
Sargent "distinguished himself by exceptional heroism," and "his actions proved critical in achieving relative superiority over determined enemy forces," Sargent's Silver Star citation reads.
Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.