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Silver Star ceremony provides new details on 7th Group combat deaths

Eglin Air Force Base (Eglin Air Force Base/Facebook)

An Oct. 29 ceremony in which an Air Force pararescueman was presented with the Silver Star medal has provided some additional details on a February incident in Afghanistan that claimed the lives of two U.S. Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) soldiers.

The 7th SFG(A) has been based at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida at Camp Arthur “Bull” Simons near Crestview, since 2011.

Sgt. 1st Class Javier J. Gutierrez and Sgt. 1st Class Antonio R. Rodriguez, both 28, and both part of the 7th SFG(A)’s 3rd Battalion, died from wounds sustained during Feb. 8 combat operations in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province.

Gutierrez, of Texas, and Rodriguez, of New Mexico, were promoted posthumously to the rank of sergeant first class, and both also were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal.

The incident was subsequently described as an insider attack. In a statement following the incident, the U.S. military said “an individual in an Afghan uniform opened fire on the combined U.S. and Afghan force with a machine gun.”

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That account was confirmed by Air Force Staff Sgt. Nicholas Brunetto of the 38th Rescue Squadron at Georgia’s Moody Air Force Base, who told the military newspaper Stars and Stripes in a story on his Silver Star ceremony that Americans and their Afghan colleagues were packing up their gear during the Feb. 8 mission when they came under machine-gun fire from an Afghan army soldier.

“There was enough dust kicked up from everyone running and the shooting that you could not tell who was actually shooting,” Brunetto told Stars and Stripes. “You could see muzzle blasts still coming from the machine gun, as well as from other areas.”

An Air Force story on the medal ceremony said the attack left eight U.S. personnel and three members of the Afghan partner force critically injured.

At one point, according to the Air Force account, Brunetto was performing triage on the badly injured soldiers and “determined a blood transfusion was the only hope for one of his teammates … .”

“… (W)ithout regard for his own personal safety,” the Air Force story continued, Brunetto “maneuvered back through incoming fire to retrieve vital medical equipment.”

Also according to the Air Force story, Brunetto exposed himself to enemy fire again “to carry several wounded patients to the extraction point for a helicopter evacuation of 11 injured teammates.”

All of the troops who Brunetto treated survived, according to the Stars and Stripes story, which also noted the deaths of Gutierrez and Rodriguez and an Afghan partner on the scene.

At the medal ceremony, Brunetto was quick to credit other team members for their actions during the ambush. “The (people) there, myself and other guys who were able to do treatment did an amazing job and were able to keep everyone (who) was injured alive,” Brunetto said in the Air Force story. “The team as a whole reacted really well to what the situation was and were able to get all the guys out of there fairly quickly.”

“I wasn’t expecting to be awarded for something like (this),” Brunetto said during the medal presentation. “A lot of it was just being there and doing the job that I had volunteered for.”

“Today is an important day, one that doesn’t happen very often in our Air Force,” U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Chad P. Franks, 15th Air Force commander, said during the recent medal ceremony, as quoted in the Air Force story. “… Nick was trained and well-equipped like every airman we send into combat … but today we recognize him for the courage he had to act. That is heroism. That is what today is about.”

The Silver Star, which dates back to 1918, when it was called the Citation Star, is the third-highest military combat decoration that can be presented to a member of the U.S. armed forces, and is issued for gallantry and valor in combat.

“It reflects the American military fighting spirit and selfless service to our nation,” Franks said at the Oct. 29 ceremony. “Nobody would deny Nick’s selfless service to America and his team that day.”

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(c) 2020 the Northwest Florida Daily News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.