President Donald Trump awarded the Medal of Honor today to Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams, the second Green Beret to receive the prestigious decoration for showing heroism in an intense 2008 battle in Afghanistan's rugged Shok Valley.
Williams was originally awarded a Silver Star for his actions during the April 6, 2008 battle, but a Defense Department review decided Williams should receive the nation's highest award for valor for distinguishing himself with character, courage and calm as he helped lead four wounded comrades to safety while fighting off a determined and overwhelming enemy force.
In a White House ceremony, Trump recognized Williams' family members and the eight Medal of Honor recipients in attendance, including former Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer II, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the same battle just one year ago.
Williams' Special Forces team and a force of Afghan commandos had air assaulted into the Shok Valley on a daring mission to kill or a capture a high-value target in an remote village about 10,000 feet up on the side of a mountain.
The mission force immediately came under accurate enemy fire, which killed an interpreter instantly. The Americans and Afghans soon found themselves defending a tiny piece of ground on a 100-foot cliff against unrelenting enemy fire from above.
At one point in the fight, an enemy sniper shot staff Sgt. John Walding in the right leg, severing it below the knee. Master Sgt. Scott Ford, the team sergeant, took a round in the chest armor plate. The armor stopped the round, but another found his left arm a few minutes later. It passed through Ford and deflected off of Shurer's helmet.
"Again and again, Matt exchanged fire with the enemy and rescued his fellow soldiers," Trump said. "He guided his injured team sergeant, Scott Ford, down the mountain to safety.
"When Matt noticed two combatants moving toward a group of badly wounded, he immediately engaged the enemy fighters and killed them both."
The Green Berets called in roughly 70 danger close-air support missions on the enemy that included Army AH-64 Apache gunships, Air Force F-15s, A-10s and even a strike from a B-1 bomber to keep from being overrun while moving the wounded to medevac helicopters.
"Matt's incredible heroism helped ensure that not a single American soldier died in the battle of Shok Valley," Trump said.
"His ground commander later wrote 'I have never seen a troop so poised, focused and capable during a fight,' and Matt is without question and without reservation one of the bravest soldiers and people I have ever met."
Trump recognized Williams' fellow team members along with two Afghan interpreters who participated in the battle.
Trump then praised Williams for his service, describing how he has completed five tours in Afghanistan and one deployment to Africa.
"And he continues to serve our country on active duty today," Trump said. "That's something -- to have the Congressional Medal of Honor and be serving on active duty. It's very rare."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.