President Donald J. Trump awarded the nation’s highest combat medal to Master Sgt. Matthew O. Williams during a ceremony at the White House on Wednesday.
Williams, a Green Beret weapons sergeant from 3rd Special Forces Group, was presented the award for his actions “going above and beyond the call of duty” during an April 6, 2008, mission in Nuristan province, Afghanistan, that came to be known as the Battle of Shok Valley.
“Matt’s heroism ensured that not a single American died in the Battle of Shok Valley,” Trump said during the ceremony. “Matt is without question and without reservation one of the bravest soldiers and people I’ve ever met.”
Trump commended Williams for his “unyielding service” and “unbreakable resolve” during the battle, as well as the five other deployments he made to Afghanistan and the one he made to Africa.
Throughout the 2008 battle, Williams exposed himself to enemy fire multiple times on steep and challenging terrain.
His team was pitted against an overwhelming enemy force that held the high-ground and was able to rain rocket propelled grenades, sniper rounds and small arms fire onto the Green Beret team and their Afghan National Army Commando partners.
Williams carried wounded teammates down the mountainside, including his team sergeant, and “shielded the injured from falling rubble as American warplanes bombed insurgent positions above and rocked the mountain from top to bottom," the president said at the ceremony.
At one point, while dropping casualties off at a collection point, Williams engaged and killed two insurgents he spotted advancing on the position to take advantage of the wounded and disoriented friendly forces.
Over the course of a seven-hour firefight, Williams “valiantly protected the wounded," Trump said, until the team was able to completely evacuate from the target area inside CH-47 Chinook helicopters.
His Medal of Honor citation states that Williams’ actions helped save the lives of four critically wounded soldiers and prevented the lead element of the assault force from being overrun when they were ambushed at the outset of the mission.
Members of Williams’ Green Beret team from that 2008 operation, as well as one of their Afghan interpreters, were present at the White House ceremony.
Williams will continue to serve in the Army on active-duty after Wednesday’s ceremony, a prospect that he’s looking forward to, he told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday.
The medal, he said, represents something much bigger than himself.
“The medal itself is more of a story of teamwork, never quitting, trusting in one another and doing what is right, what needs to be done,” Williams said Tuesday.
“As far as the day to day goes, I am hoping to return back to the unit — get back to my team — and continue training and get my current team ready for whatever comes next for us," he added.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.