Lawmaker Seeks Bronze Star Upgrade for Soldier’s Heroic Actions in Niger Ambush

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Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)
Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

A Republican lawmaker is pushing the Army to upgrade the posthumous Bronze Star with Valor Device Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson received to recognize the heroism he showed during a deadly October 2017 ambush in Niger.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., told Military.com that he has been working with Johnson's family since 2017 in an effort "to ensure he is recognized with an award commensurate to his service and sacrifice."

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On Oct. 4, 2017, Johnson was one of 10 members of Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) Team 3212 from 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), which was conducting a mounted patrol with about 34 Nigerien troops.

The mission began as a reconnaissance patrol in the area of Tiloa, north of the village of Tongo Tongo near the Mali border. It later changed to an effort to kill or capture a sub-commander of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS).

The patrol didn't locate the enemy leader, but wandered into the kill zone of an enemy ambush after passing through Tongo Tongo. A large enemy force quickly gained fire superiority over Johnson's team and the Nigerien troops, resulting in the deaths of four Americans and four Nigeriens.

Then a staff sergeant, Johnson, a Special Forces detachment chemical reconnaissance sergeant, battled bravely alongside his fellow team members as they attempted to fight off the enemy force.

During the battle, Johnson "maneuvered multiple times across open terrain through intense and accurate fire from an overwhelming hostile force to protect his team," according to an account that was read at his Aug. 10, 2019, award ceremony in Greenville, Tenn..

"Sergeant 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson is an American hero who tragically lost his life in service to our country," Roe wrote in a statement to Military.com. "I will continue working with the family and the Department of the Army to ensure that a request to upgrade the honor he was awarded posthumously is considered."

Army officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The brutal ambush ignited allegations that the Green Beret team and Nigerien troops were sent on a poorly planned, last-minute raid to capture a suspected terrorist without support or air cover. The investigation that followed resulted in disciplinary actions taken against nine individuals over failures in judgment, preparation or actions in the ambush.

Johnson, who was posthumously promoted to sergeant first class, showed great courage during the desperate battle, "disrupting the enemy's freedom of maneuver and killing several enemy fighters before succumbing to his wounds," according to the account.

Other lawmakers are involved in similar efforts to upgrade valor awards for fallen service members.

Reps. Stephanie Murphy, D-Florida; Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas; and Michael Waltz, R-Florida, have been pushing for Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe's posthumous Silver Star to be upgraded to the Medal of Honor for pulling six of his fellow soldiers from a burning Bradley fighting vehicle in Iraq in November 2005.

Cashe's uniform was soaked with fuel and caught fire as he repeatedly went back into the vehicle. He and three of his soldiers died from their burns.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper wrote in an Aug. 24 letter to the lawmakers that "Cashe's actions merit award of the Medal of Honor," adding that he would work to approve it.

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

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