The Defense Department has awarded posthumous promotions to two Special Forces soldiers killed in a firefight in Nangarhar province Afghanistan on Saturday.
Killed in the fight were Sgt. 1st Class Javier J. Gutierrez, 28, of San Antonio, Texas, and Sgt. 1st Class Antonio Rodriguez, 28, of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Both were assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), out of Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
Six other U.S. troops, who were not identified, were wounded in the fight, which began when "an individual in an Afghan uniform opened fire on the combined U.S. and Afghan force with a machine gun," U.S. Forces-Afghanistan spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett said in an earlier statement.
It remains unclear whether the act was a deliberate enemy attack via infiltration or an accident of some kind, Nangarhar provincial governor Shah Mahmood Meyakhil said in a message, according to an Agence France-Presse report.
U.S.-partnered Afghan troops also sustained casualties, according to reports.
Rodriguez and Gutierrez were both posthumously promoted from the rank of staff sergeant and awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, U.S. Army Special Operations Command Lt. Col. Loren Bymer said in a released statement.
Gutierrez, born in Jacksonville, N.C. had enlisted in the Army in 2009 as an infantryman and completed Special Forces Assessment and Selection at Fort Bragg in 2012. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), in 2015. Prior to this deployment, Gutierrez had completed deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
He had previously earned the Army Commendation Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster signifying subsequent award; and the Army Achievement Medal.
"Sgt. 1st Class Gutierrez was a warrior [who] exemplified selfless service and a commitment to the mission, both values that we embody here in the 7th Special Forces Group," Col. John W. Sannes, 7th Special Forces Group Commander, said in a statement.
Rodriguez enlisted in 2009 and then earned his Ranger tab, getting an assignment to 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, Georgia.
In June 2018 he voluntarily re-classified as a Cryptologic Linguist with expertise in Spanish, according to USASOC.
Rodriguez had deployed a total of 10 times to Afghanistan, eight times with the 75th Ranger Regiment and twice with his current unit.
He had previously earned the Bronze Star Medal; Army Commendation Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster; and Army Achievement Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster.
"Sgt. 1st Class Rodriguez was selfless and served honorably; he was certainly among the best in our unit," Sannes said in a statement. "Here at the Red Empire, we take care of our own, and Sgt. 1st Class Rodriguez' family will forever be a part of us, we will assist them in any way we can to help them through these trying times."
Gutierrez and Rodriguez are the third and fourth soldiers to die in combat in Afghanistan this year.
Pfc. Miguel Villalon and Staff Sgt. Ian McLaughlin were killed Jan. 11 in Kandahar province in an improvised explosive device attack.
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.