Special Forces Team Mechanic Killed in Niger Awarded Silver Star

This file photo provided by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command shows Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger. Johnson, who was killed in an ambush in Niger with three comrades and his body recovered days later, wasn’t captured alive by the enemy or executed at close range, based on the conclusion of a military investigation. U.S. Army Special Operations Command via AP
This file photo provided by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command shows Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger. Johnson, who was killed in an ambush in Niger with three comrades and his body recovered days later, wasn’t captured alive by the enemy or executed at close range, based on the conclusion of a military investigation. U.S. Army Special Operations Command via AP

The Army awarded a Special Forces team mechanic with a posthumous Silver Star on Friday for the heroic fight he put up against a much larger enemy force during a deadly October 2017 ambush in Niger.

Sgt. La David Johnson is credited with displaying gallantry in action and killing several enemy fighters during a relentless Oct. 4, 2017, attack on the members of Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 3212 and the platoon-size unit of Nigerien troops that accompanied them during a joint mission.

Family members received Johnson's Silver Star at a ceremony at the Miami Gardens City Hall in Miami Gardens, Florida, according to an Army Special Operations Command news release.

Johnson's Silver Star was the third valor award presented for actions during the ambush that killed four Special Forces soldiers. The Army recently awarded Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright with a posthumous Silver Star and Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson with a posthumous Bronze Star with Valor device for heroism during the intense gun battle.

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That battle led to allegations that the joint American and Nigerien patrol was sent on a hasty, poorly planned mission to capture a suspected terrorist leader. The investigation that followed resulted in disciplinary actions taken against nine individuals.

Not long after an unsuccessful search for mission's target, the mounted patrol was suddenly attacked by a much larger enemy force about 120 miles from base camp.

The Americans and Nigeriens tried to counterattack but were soon repulsed and forced to retreat, according to an official account in an unclassified, eight-page summary of a classified 3,600-page Article 15-6 fact-finding investigation ordered by Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, then-head of U.S. Africa Command, and led by his chief of staff, Army Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier.

La David Johnson manned an M240 machine gun from the back of his vehicle, firing relentlessly at enemy positions until he ran out of ammunition, according to the summary.

He then grabbed an M2010 sniper rifle -- a bolt-action weapon chambered in powerful .300 Winchester Magnum ammunition -- and continued to fire at enemy forces from the prone position in the back of the truck, according to the summary.

The order to withdraw came down, and Johnson and two Nigerien soldiers pulled back to the west on foot, the summary states. Enemy fire felled the two Nigeriens, leaving Johnson to evade alone for several hundred meters until he found cover behind a thorny tree.

From there, Johnson continued to fire on approaching enemy forces until the attackers moved in with a truck-mounted, heavy machine gun and raked the tree with suppressive fire while dismounted enemies maneuvered on Johnson and killed him with small-arms fire, according to the summary.

"Sergeant Johnson's courage and dedication to his team were unmatched, engaging a numerically superior hostile force, disrupting the enemy's freedom of movement, and killing several enemy fighters before succumbing to his wounds," according to the award citation provided by 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne).

A Miami, Florida, native, Johnson enlisted in the Army in 2014. After completing initial entry training as a wheeled vehicle mechanic, he was assigned to the Forward Support Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, according to his Army bio.

He conducted two operational deployments to Niger in support of Special Operations Command Forward North West Africa. His military education includes Airborne School, Air Assault School, Combat Lifesavers Course, Generator Operators Course, Forklift Operator Course, Fuel Handlers Course, Basic Leader Course, and Wheeled Vehicle Recovery Course.

Johnson's awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal with C Device, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Niger Cross of Valor with Star, Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge, Combat Action Badge, Marksmanship Qualification Badge (Sharpshooter with Rifle), and Driver and Mechanic Badge for Wheeled Vehicle.

-- Military.com's Richard Sisk contributed to this story.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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