After months of fighting an unseen enemy, Greg Fulton, a combat engineer in the Wisconsin National Guard, came face to face with insurgents in Afghanistan on Aug. 10, 2009.
Normally part of a platoon that hunts for roadside bombs, 1st Sgt. Fulton led a volunteer team of Afghans and Americans into an enemy-filled building in Pol-e Alam. They cleared four floors, but an enemy remained on the fifth, separated by a stairwell that opened up Fulton's team to gunfire.
Fulton duct-taped an explosive to a pole, elevated it up the stairwell and detonated it, a stroke of ingenuity that gave the team the momentum to secure the building.
"Because of him, no one had to storm that stairwell," said Richard Helm, a Guardsman who was on a command team with Fulton in the 951st Engineer Company in Afghanistan. "That's not something you learn in infantry school."
For his bravery and quick thinking that day, Fulton will be the first Wisconsin National Guardsman to receive the Silver Star medal, the U.S. military's third-highest decoration for valor. Fulton, 39, of Arbor Vitae, will receive the medal Friday in a ceremony at Volk Field, in Juneau County.
"His initiative and thinking outside the box was what made the whole incident a success without loss of U.S. lives," Helm said.
The device Fulton created saved a lot of lives, said Joy Staab, speaking for the Wisconsin National Guard.
The unit deserves recognition more than its leader, Fulton said. He added that he was humbled that others thought his actions deserved the prestigious medal.
"I'm far more proud of my unit and the courage and bravery they displayed on a daily basis," Fulton said. "They're the reason I do what I do."
Fulton, who has also deployed to Saudi Arabia and Iraq, called the mission his most dangerous.
"This was out of the ordinary," he said. "Engagements were 10, 15 feet away."
After the encounter, Fulton said, he reflected on veterans of former wars such as World War II and Vietnam, in which violent engagements were the norm.
"This one event in my experience would be a small fraction of the stuff they went through," he said. "I did it one day, for five hours; those World War II guys would have to do this day in and day out. I couldn't imagine doing the same type of fighting on a daily basis."
Helm said Fulton was a man of few words and led soldiers by winning their respect. He said Fulton also saved a fellow soldier's life that same day. Helicopters were firing into the building, and when the soldiers took cover, one became unnerved. Fulton held him back from running into friendly fire.
"He's very knowledgeable and skilled at military tactics, but he's also a motivational leader," Helm said. "He leads by example."
Fulton was born on Kessler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., and grew up in northern California. He joined the Army in 1991 after graduating from high school, working in Fort Lewis, Wash., and Fort Campbell, Ky. He was deployed to Saudi Arabia for nine months.
In 1998, Fulton transferred into the Wisconsin National Guard as a combat engineer, studied criminal justice for two years and was hired as a deputy sheriff by the Vilas County sheriff's office in 2000. As part of the guard, he was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
When he returned from Afghanistan, he transferred to Medford as first sergeant of the 273rd Sapper Company. Fulton lives with his wife, Sandra, and their three children.