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Rangers awarded medals for Afghanistan heroics

Oct. 31, 2012 - 07:04AM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 31, 2012 - 07:04AM  |  
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno presents a Distinguished Service Cross and three Silver Stars to soldiers with 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, at a ceremony Oct. 26 at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno presents a Distinguished Service Cross and three Silver Stars to soldiers with 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, at a ceremony Oct. 26 at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga. (Army)
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The night was so dark that Sgt. Craig D. Warfle couldn't see the enemy in the wood line in front of him. All he knew was his fellow Ranger had been shot and he needed to suppress the enemy until his wounded comrade could be moved to safety.

For his actions on that night, Aug. 18, 2010, Warfle was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award for valor.

"It's very humbling," Warfle said. "This attention is kind of foreign to me."

Warfle, of 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, was awarded the DSC during a ceremony Oct. 26 at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno presided over the ceremony.

At the ceremony, three other Rangers from 1st Battalion received the Silver Star, the third-highest award for valor.

In addition, the battalion and its subordinate units received a Presidential Unit Citation, the unit equivalent of the DSC, for its "extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy" between May 15 and Oct. 20, 2010. The battalion, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, was "outstanding in bringing the fight to the enemy and was responsible for numerous successes on the battlefield," according to the citation for the award.

Sgt. Craig D. Warfle

On Aug. 18, 2010, a special operations task force learned that a Taliban commander and weapons facilitator was meeting with at least 17 other fighters in Afghanistan's Logar province to plan an ambush on coalition forces.

Two AH-64 Apache helicopters were sent in to strike the enemy's location, then Warfle, who was a squad automatic weapon gunner, and his fellow Rangers were flown in to eliminate the remaining enemy fighters, according to the narrative accompanying Warfle's award.

Warfle and five others, who made up Ranger Element 1, were sent to the northern side of a tree line to provide suppressing fire to allow a second Ranger element to assault from west to east.

As soon as Warfle stepped off the helicopter, however, he and his fellow Rangers came under heavy enemy fire. Without hesitation, Warfle returned fire and crawled 15 meters through the open, muddy field toward the enemy. He suppressed the enemy with 150 rounds from his Mk 46, a variant of the SAW, allowing the other Rangers to move into position.

Under fire and with no cover in the open field, Warfle continued to fire, suppressing the enemy and buying time for his leaders to determine a way to assault the enemy.

When Ranger Element 2 became pinned down in the open field to the south, Warfle and Sgt. Martin A. Lugo moved to flank the enemy position. When the men got within 25 meters of the enemy machine-gun positions, they were both hit with a volley of machine-gun fire.

Warfle suffered a gunshot wound to his right arm.

"It was a very superficial, lucky wound for me," said Warfle, who has served three tours in Afghanistan. "It was like a hot shell from the rifle had somehow gotten into my jacket and was burning my arm."

But Lugo was critically wounded. Warfle positioned himself in the line of fire and covered Lugo until the rest of his element could come to Lugo's aid.

"I just stayed where I was," Warfle said. "I couldn't see anybody, but I could almost reach out and touch them."

Warfle kept firing from his exposed position, allowing the other Rangers to pull Lugo to safety.

Because it was so dark, "I was standing up there alone, and I was just waiting for the next round to kill me," Warfle said. "I was thinking about a rush of what happens when you die because I thought that was going to happen to me in the next few seconds."

Only after Lugo was evacuated did Warfle treat the gunshot wound to his own arm. He then continued to fight for more than 20 minutes while the assault force consolidated and moved back away from the enemy positions.

"He steadfastly remained at his forward position delivering accurate fire on the enemy until all members of the assault force had moved across the open field to cover 100 meters to the west," according to the narrative. His actions allowed the force to break contact, drop ordnance on the enemy and safely move to landing zone.

Lugo later died from his wounds.

Staff Sgt. Dominic J. Annecchini

On May 16, 2012, Annecchini and his fellow Rangers conducted a raid against enemy fighters in eastern Afghanistan.

Serving as a mentor to an Afghan squad, Annecchini followed and supported those troops as they moved into position alongside the American assault force and began to clear the target compound.

When the Afghans entered the last outside door of the compound, their lead man came under fire from five enemy fighters barricaded inside.

The Afghan soldier was critically wounded and fell forward into the room with the enemy, according to the narrative accompanying Annecchini's Silver Star.

Without cover or concealment, and knowing he would be exposed to the same enemy fire, Annecchini moved toward the wounded Afghan soldier. He entered the compound, secured the breach in the last room, and communicated with his platoon sergeant a plan to recover the wounded Afghan soldier and move him to safety.

While assessing the situation, Annecchini identified the enemy fighters and engaged them "at a rapid rate of fire" with his M4 to protect the wounded Afghan soldier and two other Afghan soldiers in an adjacent room.

Annecchini, still firing, went into the room to recover the wounded Afghan but was shot in the head and critically wounded.

Annecchini's actions allowed two other Rangers to recover the casualties and clear the compound. He is credited with saving the lives of the Afghan soldiers and Rangers who followed him into the compound.

Today, Annecchini, who has deployed 10 times, is doing well and is mostly recovered from his gunshot wound.

The bullet hit Annecchini's right night-vision tube, which then burst into his eye protection, cut his nose and damaged his eye. Bullet fragments went through his right brow and damaged his left frontal lobe.

He lost his sense of smell, and his right eye is permanently dilated, but he did not lose his sight. He also still suffers from weakness and balance issues in his right leg because of the brain damage.

"All things considered, I'd say I'm pretty lucky," he said. "I'm alive and grateful, and moving on with my life and career."

Sgt. Christopher D. Coray

During a combat operation April 27 and 28, 2011, in northern Afghanistan, Coray's team was tasked with clearing several areas of enemy fighters.

As the soldiers worked, Coray's team was ordered to interdict an enemy fighter seen jumping over compound walls parallel to the assault force's position, according to the narrative accompanying Coray's Silver Star.

As Coray and his team moved toward the enemy fighter, six more enemy fighters moved toward the Rangers to prepare a hasty ambush.

A separate element of Rangers moved in to support Coray's team and killed one of the enemy fighters. That's when the enemy launched its attack, firing AK-47s and heavy machine guns from covered and concealed positions.

"All hell broke loose," Coray said.

Coray reacted immediately, engaging the enemy in close combat, according to the narrative.

Under heavy enemy fire, Coray killed an enemy fighter who was less than 10 meters away. When he heard reports of troops in contact inside a compound to the east, Coray, still under heavy enemy fire, moved back to the compound to reinforce his fellow Rangers.

Moving by himself through unknown terrain, Coray crossed an open area, exposing himself to a small room filled with multiple enemy fighters.

"Facing a wall of fire from the west and north, Sgt. Coray immediately threw a grenade in the room, waited for the detonation and then engaged the enemy with his M4," according to the narrative.

Coray, who has served six deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, then moved back outside the compound to reinforce a friendly element that was taking heavy machine-gun and small-arms fire from three directions.

"Coray bounded through treacherous terrain while enemy rounds kicked up dirt around him," according to the narrative, and joined the rest of the force in repelling the enemy.

Coray's actions resulted in several enemy casualties and prevented a "tactically competent" enemy from successfully ambushing the assault force, according to the narrative. Throughout the fight, Coray said "not a whole lot" was going through his mind.

"It was more or less you revert back to your training," he said. "You can't really act on emotion when it comes to things like that. The only thing you're thinking is I've got to come out of this alive and I'm going to, and my team's got to come out of this alive and they're going to."

Receiving the Silver Star is an honor, Coray said.

"But I'd say, personally, it was more of an honor to serve with the guys in my squad and team," he said. "It's nice to get the Silver Star, but I wish you could recognize everyone in your squad for what they do."

Sgt. Michael A. Ross

On April 13, 2012, Ross and Sgt. Tanner Higgins were climbing onto a roof to isolate a target compound when they came under enemy fire.

Trapped on the rooftop with no cover, Higgins was shot through the chest. Ross, who quickly realized they were being targeted by multiple enemy fighters, grabbed Higgins' rifle and quickly worked to suppress the enemy, according to the narrative accompanying his Silver Star.

Bursts of automatic fire struck all around Ross, a sniper team leader with 1st Platoon, Company D, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and Higgins. Some of the rounds hit mere inches from their bodies.

"My main concern was making sure Higgins was protected as well as I could," Ross said. "We had no cover on the roof, so … I used myself as a shield and stayed over him."

Ross steadily and quickly gained fire superiority and forced the enemy, which was on a rooftop, to retreat.

"I was in a pretty decisive gunfight for about five minutes by myself," Ross said. "It was a tight spot, but you can't really think of the downside of it. I just kind of had to work it second by second and play the cards we had been dealt."

Ross, who has four deployments to Afghanistan and two to Iraq, kept fighting while he directed the assault force of fellow Rangers to enemy positions within the compound and his location. When the rest of the force arrived at his location, Ross again exposed himself to the enemy so Higgins could be evacuated.

Once outside, Ross immediately rejoined the fight and provided overwatch for a squad of Afghan troops as they cleared the compound.

During the clearance, Ross spotted an enemy fighter who was trying to attack the Afghan troops. Ross killed the enemy with one round and prevented any Afghan casualties.

Ross, along with another sniper, continued to provide overwatch for the assault force and the Afghan troops. Ross learned later that Higgins didn't survive his wound.

"He did a really good job of fighting to stay alive when they brought him back to the camp we had flown out of, but they just couldn't patch him," Ross said. "He was a good Ranger, one of the best Rangers I've ever served with, and I wouldn't just say that."

Ross said he's humbled to receive the Silver Star.

"It's one of those awards where … you think, do I really deserve it?" he said.

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