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Army special operators receive 34 valor awards for combat actions in one Afghanistan deployment

Army special operations forces were awarded 34 valor awards during a ceremony at Fort Carson, Colorado, last week.

During a six-month deployment to Afghanistan, soldiers assigned to Special Operations Task Force 102 fought against the Taliban, the Islamic State’s Khorasan province, the Haqqani network and Al-Qaida fighters, according to Army officials.

It was one of the most successful summer fighting seasons in recent history for the task force, according to the Army, yielding five Silver Star Medals, nine Bronze Star Medals with valor, 20 Army Commendation Medals with valor and 36 Purple Heart medals.

Lt. Gen. Francis M. Beaudette, commanding general of Army Special Operations Command, presented the awards Thursday during a ceremony attended by the soldiers and their families.

“I am incredibly humbled to be here in the company of these Green Beret heroes, who embody all the values and attributes we hold dear in the ARSOF community,” Beaudette said at the ceremony.

The task force was comprised of Green Berets from 10th Special Forces Group and 19th Special Forces Group, as well as special operations soldiers from the 9th Psychological Operations Battalion and 71st Ordnance Company.

“For 170 days of a blistering series of operations, we focused on disrupting the enemy in their strongholds,” said Lt. Col. Justin Hufnagel, commander of 2nd Battalion, 10th Group.

Valor awards lay in rows ready to be presented to the Green Berets of 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 10th Special Forces Group. (Sgt. Dustin Miller/Army)
Valor awards lay in rows ready to be presented to the Green Berets of 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 10th Special Forces Group. (Sgt. Dustin Miller/Army)

“They earned these awards supporting one another, side by side, in battle,” Hufnagel.

During the ceremony, the Bronze Star Medal with valor was posthumously awarded to Sgt. Joseph Collette and the Silver Star was posthumously awarded to Sgt. 1st Class Will Lindsay. Both died from small arms fire during combat operations in Kunduz province, Afghanistan.

Lindsay was a Green Beret assigned to 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group. Collette, an explosive ordnance disposal specialist, was assigned to the 242nd Ordnance Battalion, 71st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group.

Both Collette’s and Lindsay’s awards were presented to their surviving family members.

Army Commendation Medals with valor were also posthumously awarded to Master Sgt. Micheal Riley and Sgt. 1st Class Elliot Robbins. Riley died from small arms fire in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province.

Robbins died from non-combat related injuries in Helmand province, Afghanistan. The cause of death has not yet been released.

“This ceremony brings meaningful closure to such an incredible group of warriors,” said Beaudette. “This is a warrior battalion, within a warrior formation and we get a sense of their love of country, unit and their teammates.”

The task force’s deployment took place during the deadliest year for U.S. forces since the mission to the country changed names and drew down troops at the start of 2015.

A total of 17 U.S. troops have been killed in action in Afghanistan so far this year, according to Defense Department figures. More than 120 other American personnel have been wounded in combat in 2019.

The wide range of foes the task force faced in Afghanistan highlights the ongoing challenges the mission there must tackle.

While the Taliban were the focus of the now dead peace negotiations, the Haqqani network, which has historically had strong ties in Pakistan, and al-Qaida are also key players in the conflict.

The growth of the Islamic State’s Khorasan province also risks enticing disaffected Taliban, should a peace deal ultimately take place.

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