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Green Beret receives Silver Star for refusing to leave fallen leader behind

Nearly five years later, during a June 3 ceremony at Fort Carson, Colorado, now-Sgt. 1st Class Harris received a Silver Star Medal — the Army's third highest valor award — for charging into open territory with a grenade launcher in one hand and an M4 firing in the other.

Bell — now a chief warrant officer 2 — remembered Adams as a "true leader," "amazing man" and "wonderful husband and father."

Harris' Silver Star citation reads: "SSG Harris' continuous noble actions during the fight were the primary reason his fallen Team Sergeant's body did not fall into enemy hands. Despite the daunting nature of the events, SSG Harris displayed incomparable valor, bearing true faith to the ideal of 'never leaving a fallen comrade,' and leading his Team in regaining the initiative in a perilous situation."

A spokesman for 10th Group, Lt. Col. Sean Ryan, said the unit was unsure why it took five years to recognize Harris. Attempts to reach Harris for comment were unsuccessful; Ryan said he deployed shortly after the ceremony. Other team members are also deployed.

Accounts of the battle come from the citation and the10th Group press release. First names were not provided by the Army to protect Special Forces operatives.

'We're in deep trouble'

Suddenly about 25 to 30 insurgents, staggered along a 180-meter stretch, ambushed the group, engaging them with "overwhelming and accurate" AK47, PKM machine gun and RPG fire.

"My mindset was, 'Holy crap. We're in deep trouble,'" said Harris, who had graduated from his Special Forces qualification courses months before.

Master Sgt. Danial Adams
Master Sgt. Danial Adams

Master Sgt. Danial Adams

Photo Credit: Defense Department

Adams, in the lead, and Harris initially got low and tried to speed through the "kill zone," but Harris saw Adams fly off of his ATV; it was only much later that Harris learned he'd been shot in the wrist, thigh and neck. Harris managed to veer up a hill and find cover between two buildings, and three other team members separately found cover of their own about 40 meters away.

As Harris engaged the insurgents with his M4 carbine and a grenade launcher and called out to Adams, he became a target for concentrated enemy fire. That included the RPG that briefly knocked him out and also knocked out his radio earbuds.

He got up and re-engaged, his only goals to return fire and find Adams. Harris saw him about 25 meters away. He called out but received no answer, while repeatedly firing an M203 grenade launcher attached to his M4 at insurgents.

"Okay, I know where Slim's at," Harris later explained. "I can't find the rest of my team. I need to go and get Slim. … I remember my legs and knees were just shaking and knocking uncontrollably and I couldn't stop it."

"I was basically preparing myself to die."

Not knowing his leader's status, he sprinted into enemy fire, firing an M4 with one hand and an HK 320 grenade launcher with the other. When he got to Adams he began using hand grenades as well. Adams was non-responsive and too heavy to pick up, so Harris dragged him to the only cover he could find: a small rock wall that was actually closer to the enemy, as it lined the ditch from which insurgents were fighting.

Between firing and throwing grenades, he tried to tend to Adams' injuries, but realized he was dead.

"I was pretty devastated," Harris said. "I took two seconds to say a quick prayer for him and his family, and then it was back to the firefight that I was still the center of attention of."

'Living in a different world'

In the meantime, the rest of his team had maneuvered into better position to deliver effective fire to help Harris and also made contact with other units that had been waiting at the rendezvous. Shortly after, an F-16 made a strafing run that came within a few meters of Harris.

The strafing runs failed to disperse a resilient opposing force, though. Harris managed to find his earbuds and make contact with Bell, who informed him that the air support couldn't drop bombs because Harris was too close to the targets. Harris chose to abandon Adams' body only because standing in the way of that air support put the other team members in danger.

"I could tell that he was in a bad way," said Bell of his radio conversation with Harris. "This guy [was] living in a different world than what we were living in. A totally different world."

Sgt. 1st Class Richard Harris (right), a special forces soldier with 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), shakes hands with Lt. Gen. Ken Tovo, commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command after being awarded with the Silver Star medal June 3, 2016 at Fort Carson, Colo. Harris earned the Silver Star medal for heroic actions in Afghanistan on Sept. 13, 2011. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Smith/Released)
Sgt. 1st Class Richard Harris (right), a special forces soldier with 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), shakes hands with Lt. Gen. Ken Tovo, commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command after being awarded with the Silver Star medal June 3, 2016 at Fort Carson, Colo. Harris earned the Silver Star medal for heroic actions in Afghanistan on Sept. 13, 2011. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Smith/Released)

Sgt. 1st Class Richard Harris, a Special Forces soldier with 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), shakes hands with Lt. Gen. Ken Tovo, commander of Army Special Operations Command, after being awarded the Silver Star Medal on June 3 at Fort Carson, Colo.

Photo Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Smith/Army

Harris sprinted up the hill to his team as it protected him with suppressive fire; when Harris arrived, Bell said he was "as exhausted as I've ever seen a human being be." Three truck-loads of reinforcements led by Staff Sgt. Millan had also arrived. And still, Harris wasn't done fighting and wanted to get to their leader to keep his body from the Taliban.

Harris and Bell sprinted across 40 meters of open ground parallel to the enemy line to an ATV carrying a 60mm mortar system. They fired off eight mortar rounds before taking cover as the F-16 dropped its 500-pound GBU54 bomb on the enemy's position. The two then rode the ATV to deliver the mortar to fellow soldiers before Harris drove the ATV right back into the kill zone for Adams, with Millan trailing on foot.

As they got to Adams, radio alerted them that another 500-pound bomb was incoming. Harris jumped on Adams' body; Millan jumped on Harris. It hit about 80 meters away. An interpreter then came running in and helped them load Adams onto the ATV before driving out of the kill zone.

Harris credited Adams with saving the rest of the soldiers by leading from the front.

"In my mind, that day," explained Harris, "as soon as the firefight happened, we had some choices to make immediately. And the one that Slim made was the one that I was gonna make, because I trusted him that much."

"If anything, [Adams] drew fire so that I had the time to move up that hill and get to cover, and live," Harris said. "[Adams] made the decision of 'I am going first, I'm leading out. He didn't have to lead out. …He didn't tell anyone to lead, he didn't ask anyone to lead. He led from the front, like he always did."

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