During a brief stopover in Alaska last week, President Donald Trump made time for a talk with troops at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson -- and singled out one to praise for heroism.
The visit at JBER took place during a refueling stop as Air Force One made its way back from Hanoi Feb. 28. In a speech that ran just under 20 minutes, Trump casually discussed the military budget; made news by announcing his belief that the ISIS caliphate had been 100 percent defeated in Syria; and saluted an Army noncommissioned officer for his acts of valor.
“Among those with us is Sgt. Sean Rogers, who, a few weeks ago, received the Bronze Star for valor,” Trump said. “Where are you, handsome devil? I won’t bring the generals up, but come on, Sean, get up here.”
The Bronze Star award for Rogers had not previously been made public; but the circumstances surrounding his actions have. Army Spc. Gabriel Conde, 22, was killed April 30 during a firefight in Kapisa province, Afghanistan. He was a team member of Rogers,’ assigned to 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division out of JBER. The same enemy attack left multiple Afghan national defense force troops dead and another American service member wounded.
“While he was in Afghanistan, Sean and his team occupied a rooftop and provided cover for a Special Forces team. Sean rushed into the enemy fire to rescue a member of his team, [Conde],” Trump said. “ … Tragically, Specialist Conde did not make it alive. And today, we remember the heroic sacrifice of this incredible American hero. We are eternally grateful, in his debt.”
According to Rogers’ LinkedIn profile, he served as a fire team leader and radio-telephone operator for a platoon of Army paratroopers and a U.S. Special Forces team during that deployment, which concluded in May 2018.
According to the Washington Post, the deployed unit to which Rogers and Conde belonged had been in place to offer additional firepower to SOF troops working to take out ISIS and Taliban leaders along to the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In Afghanistan, Gabe’s unit was assigned to provide extra firepower to U.S. Special Operations forces and Afghan commandos conducting raids to capture or kill Islamic State or Taliban leaders hiding along the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
When Trump called Rogers onto the stage with him at JBER Feb. 28, telling him not to mind the Secret Service detail standing ready, the sergeant seemed nonplussed but pleased.
When prompted to say something, Rogers kept it brief.
“Just thank you, I guess,” he said, smiling as he shook Trump’s hand.
Conde also received the Bronze Star for valor and the Purple Heart, presented posthumously, the Washington Post reported.
The president’s recognition of Rogers comes in the 18th year of fighting in Afghanistan. The Post reported that Conde was the 2,264th U.S. service member to die in the conflict.
“Sean, I want to thank you and everybody else involved,” Trump said. “That’s really something. And we pay great respect. You know that.”
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.