The 16-hour gunfight in which Master Sgt. Michael S. Hunter delivered medical care to two wounded U.S. service members while taking enemy fire was a tough and heroic mission by any standard.
But it wasn’t the battle the Army considers Hunter’s greatest feat during his deployment to Afghanistan two years ago.
On Wednesday, the veteran Joint Base Lewis-McChord special operator received two of the nation’s highest awards for valor in combat, both stemming from his 2010 assignment in Western Afghanistan. They’re exceptional honors even for the ranks of the elite 1st Special Forces Group in which Hunter serves.
The June 2010 battle, in which Hunter, 35, protected his wounded fellow soldiers, earned him a Bronze Star.
“His courageous actions all the way through the engagement kept momentum in the friendly force’s favor and were decisive to repelling a determined enemy assault and the successful treatment and evacuation of two critically injured U.S. soldiers,” Hunter’s Bronze Star commendation reads.
He received a Silver Star for another fight that April in which he took control of a faltering joint mission with Afghan commandos and led an attack that caused the deaths of some 103 insurgents. The Silver Star is the third-highest medal the Defense Department awards exclusively for valor in combat.
The raid enabled NATO to destroy an entrenched network of tunnels and compounds used against Western and Afghan government forces.
Hunter put himself out front that day and took risks so other soldiers and Afghan commandos would not have to, his Silver Star commendation reads.
“Throughout the entire 10-hour engagement, Sergeant Hunter repeatedly provided inspiration, leadership, and guidance to both (Special Operations Forces) operators and Afghanistan Army commandos,” the commendation reads.
Hunter is married and a father of four. He has served at Lewis-McChord in the 1st Special Forces Group since 2007, deploying to Afghanistan, Iraq, Cambodia and the Philippines.
Hunter’s Silver Star commendation paints a clear picture of a mission that unfolded with surprising obstacles for a team of four U.S. special operators and 28 Afghan commandos. Their aim was to serve as a reconnaissance and surveillance team to scope out hardened enemy positions near Afghanistan’s border with Turkmenistan.
By the time of the raid, insurgents had forced out civilians and laid out defenses such as machine gun bunkers and mines.
The joint commando team slipped through the enemy’s front line and scouted other positions. They first took fire when a man peeked out at them from around a corner and returned with an AK-47. The commandos killed that first shooter.
They took more fire as they approached one of the main enemy positions, killing several insurgents but suffering several injuries and at least one fatal casualty among their own ranks. They linked up with another patrol and created a helicopter landing zone to evacuate the first wounded and fallen Afghan commandos.
“Sergeant Hunter’s element ensured that the enemy was unable to bring effective fire to bear as the first (medical evacuation) helicopter extracted four friendly wounded and one friendly killed,” the commendation reads.
Commandos kept moving toward enemy positions, but started to show reluctance after losing several countrymen. That’s when Hunter put himself at the front of the fight against the insurgents in the tunnels.
He “calmly stepped to the front of them, moved to the nearest tunnel entrance where the enemy was firing from and personally neutralized the insurgents” with grenades and rifle fire.
His bravery boosted the confidence of his Afghan allies, the commendation says. His “selflessness and firm resolve inspired the commandos and enabled them to find the will to continue to fight.”
As the mission continued, operators discovered an elaborate tunnel network beyond what they expected. It was so entrenched they chose to call in NATO air support to destroy it. Western aircraft dropped four 500-pound bombs on the site, “reducing the compound,” as the commendation reads.
Commandos went back to the compound after the jets nearly leveled it. About 30 more fighters attacked.
Hunter played an important role in helping the commands from both nations withdraw from the fight under heavy fire.
“Sergeant Hunter refused to allow other (Special Operations Forces) operators to place themselves in these exposed positions and insisted on assuming rearguard duty yet again,” it reads. “Sergeant Hunter’s repeated heroic, selfless actions throughout the withdrawal allowed the patrol” to return to its forward base without further serious casualties.
The program for Hunter’s award ceremony shows he has another deployment to Afghanistan on the firstname.lastname@example.org