The commanding general of 1st Special Forces Command presented the Silver Star to the family of Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright on Wednesday.
Wright was killed in action during the October 2017 Niger ambush. He had been assigned to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, during a mission close to the shared Niger-Mali border, looking for an Islamic State-linked militant leader when his gun truck was ambushed by a larger force, outgunned and separated from their comrades.
Wright’s citation said that he “maneuvered multiple times across open terrain through intense and accurate fire from an overwhelming hostile force to protect and recover two of his fallen comrades.”
Four Americans assigned to Army Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 3212 were killed in the ambush. Four Nigerien partner forces also died.
The award ceremony took place in Santa Claus, Georgia, where members of Wright’s family live.
The family of Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson, another soldier killed in the ambush, received the Bronze Star with Valor device last week. And the family of Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, another Army Green Beret, received a Bronze Star with Valor device earlier this week, according to Sgt. 1st Class Caleb Barrieau, a 3rd Special Forces Group spokesman.
The Army will also be awarding a posthumous Silver Star medal to Sgt. La David Johnson, an Army mechanic for ODA 3212, on Friday for his actions during the ambush, Barrieau said.
The dozen U.S. soldiers and their 30 Nigerien partners were packed into eight vehicles when the ambush began. The trucks became separated from each other in a kill zone spread over thousands of yards, as an assaulting force three times their size and equipped with medium and heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, bore down on them.
The trucks had first stopped to return fire, before the ground commander made the decision to pull back and avoid being flanked.
Jeremiah Johnson, Black and Wright were in the same vehicle. They acknowledged the order to move out and threw a smoke grenade to mask their cover, but Black was shot and killed by the enemy as the truck began driving slowly forward. Wright and Johnson continued to defend their position and their fallen comrade before Johnson was badly wounded.
They attempted to bound away as Johnson fell, and Wright returned and fought over the body of his comrade, according to the Army.
Elsewhere, La David Johnson made a last stand of his own. He jumped on his vehicle’s M240 machine gun when the ambush started and fired it until he ran out of ammunition, and then switched to an M2010 sniper rifle.
His truck was also separated from the main force and both Nigeriens with him were killed before he was forced to ditch his vehicle and run the length of five football fields to reach a sparse thorny tree, the only cover in the area.
He made his final stand there and returned fire as an enemy truck with its own mounted machine gun closed in. His body was found two days later.
“Sergeant Johnson’s courage and dedication to his team were unmatched, engaging a numerically superior hostile force, disrupting the enemy’s freedom of movement, and killing several enemy fighters before succumbing to his wounds,” the Silver Star citation reads.
The medals being handed out mark one of the final points of a nearly two-year process that involved investigations, reviews of the investigations, controversies over who was being held accountable and a realization that the team was too under-resourced for the task at hand.
Much of the early blame for the ambush was heaped on the ground force commander during the attack.
When the redacted investigation was ultimately released in June, however, the document stated that the captain from the ambushed Green Beret team had asked the battalion commander in Chad if they could return to base after the helicopter assault force they were supporting unexpectedly pulled out of their mission.
The Chad-based commander told the team to continue and they were ultimately ambushed by the large force of ISIS-linked militants.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.