Three Defense Department contractors -- all with special operations backgrounds -- were awarded the Pentagon's highest civilian honor Tuesday for their actions in going into combat mode to support U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
At a Pentagon ceremony, Army Lt. Gen. Darsie Rogers, deputy director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), presented the civilian Medal for Valor to retired Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Anthony "Tony" Dunne, retired Army Master Sgt. William Timothy "Tim" Nix, and retired Army Chief Warrant Officer Brandon "Ray" Seabolt.
All three showed themselves to be "the epitome of what it means to be a true hero," Rogers said at the presentation in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes, where the names of the nation's Medal of Honor recipients are emblazoned on the walls.
The three were working under contract to DTRA as counter-IED (improvised explosive devices) specialists or "irregular warfare analysts."
Dunne, 45, of Webber Falls, Oklahoma, and Seabolt, 53, of Skiatook, Oklahoma were employed by CACI-The Wexford Group. Nix, 63, of Coos Bay, Oregon, worked for General Dynamics.
"The bold and decisive actions of these men under fire are admirable," said Vayl Oxford, director of DTRA. "The courage, determined spirit and devotion to duty is what makes us all so proud to recognize them."
At any given time, DTRA has 170 to 200 contract employees embedded with U.S. units in the Mideast and Africa, Oxford said.
On Aug. 7, 2015, Dunne and Nix were at Camp Integrity just north of Kabul when a powerful vehicle-borne improvised explosive device blew a hole in a main gate and knocked down the guard tower, Nix said.
The enemy, believed to be the Taliban, followed up the blast by attempting to rush through the gate. Army Master Sgt. Andrew McKenna, who would be awarded the Silver Star posthumously, called out, "Hey, man, we gotta plug the hole," Dunne and Nix said.
Their citation said Dunne and Nix "assisted in clearing a breach, which in turn fixed the enemy and further prevented insurgency forces from entering their compound. Together they assisted in securing the area external to the compound, securing the compound itself and denying the enemy the ability to conduct a follow-on attack."
Seabolt was with U.S. units in southwestern Helmand province near the hotly contested Sangin district on Dec. 17, 2015, when they entered an Afghan compound. They immediately came under direct semi-automatic and automatic fire.
Seabolt gave a textbook "economy of force" response, Rogers said, adding that economy of force for Seabolt meant "one well-armed man who shoots straight."
"They definitely had surprise on us, but we rebounded," Seabolt said. The citation said "Seabolt's bravery instilled courage among the entire force, resulting in effective fires on the target, softening the objective and allowing the recovery force to approach with little resistance."
The Office of the Secretary of Defense created the Medal for Valor after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to recognize government employees and private civilians "who perform an act of heroism or sacrifice with voluntary risk to their personal safety in the face of danger."
There have been 14 previous recipients. The first was volunteer firefighter Eric Jones for his actions in fighting the blaze at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. The last previous recipient was Anthony Sadler for his actions in helping to stop a terrorist on a Brussels-Paris train on Aug. 21, 2015.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct the contractors' employment information.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.