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Fort Bragg soldiers killed in 2017 Niger attack awarded honorary green berets

Sgt. LaDavid Johnson, was posthumously awarded an honorary Green Beret (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Brandon Allums)

Two soldiers killed in an Oct. 4, 2017, ambush inNiger have been named honorary Green Berets, according to a U.S. Army Special Operations Command announcement this month.

Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson and Sgt. LaDavid Johnson, both 3rd Special Force Group soldiers, were each posthumously awarded an honorary Green Beretin a private ceremony last week hosted by Lt. Gen. Francis Beaudette, commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

The Green Beret is worn by those serving as Special Forces soldiers and is generally awarded after passing the Special Operations assessment and selection, according to a news release.

Jeremiah Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio, was a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear specialist.

LaDavid Johnson 25, of Miami Gardens, Florida, was a wheeled vehicle mechanic.

The two were killed in action alongside Special Forces soldiers — Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia; and Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington.

The families of Sgt. Johnson, Sgt. 1st Class Johnson, Black and Wright attended last week’s private ceremony.

Beaudette said the soldiers were “selfless in every aspect of act and of deed, valorous in the face of overwhelming odds and danger, and committed to freeing the oppressed.”

Sgt. 1st Class Johnson and Sgt. Johnson had a special bond with the Special Forces regiment they were assigned to, Beaduette said.

“They lived on an (operational detachment), they fought with their ODA and they gave their lives on an ODA,” he said.

During the private ceremony, the families of Sgt. 1st Class Johnson and Sgt. Johnson were presented with a certificate describing their honorary induction into the Special Forces Regiment along with a shadow box containing their honorary Green Berets, according to the news release.

“This is a tangible and important recognition of the dedication and exemplary service of both Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson and Sgt. LaDavid Johnson,” Beaudette said.

In August 2019, the families of all four soldiers were presented with valor awards associated with their acts during the attack.

Sgt. Johnson was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, and Sgt. 1st Class Johnson was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with valor device.

Black was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal, and Wright was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.

On June 5, 2018, the Department of Defense released a redacted report of the investigation of the October 2017 attack based on photographs, audio, video and testimonial evidence.

The 176-page findings of fact report states that Team Ouallam — which Wright, Black, Sgt. 1st Class Johnson and Sgt. Johnson were part of — was a Special Forces team with nine Special Forces personnel in Ouallam, and commanded by an Army captain.

The executive findings report states that the team left with Nigerian forces on Oct. 3, 2017, on a counterterrorism operation to target a key member of the Islamic State near the village of Tiola.

The team did not conduct permission rehearsals or battle drills with its partner forces, the report states.

Once in Tiola, the team was unable to locate its target and conducted a key leader engagement with a partner force commander.

The report states that although U.S. special operations forces have authority to conduct counterterrorism operations with partner Nigerian forces, the initial concept of operations submitted for the mission was not approved at the proper level of command.

An acting commander at the Advanced Operations Base, a captain, was the most senior officer aware of the true nature of the mission, the report states.

A Special Operations Command and control element commander directed a multi-team raid, including a second U.S. special operations forces team, but weather forced the second team to abort its air assault mission.

The target fled before Team Ouallam arrived, the report states.

The team headed back to its home base and stopped in Tongo Tongo to resupply, as its Nigerian partner forces needed water.

The team conducted an impromptu key leader engagement with village leaders and left Oct. 4, 2017, and was ambushed south of Tongo Tongo.

American and Nigerian soldiers returned fire.

Sgt. 1st Class Johnson, then a staff sergeant, fired from a position near a back quarter panel of the vehicle and coordinated alternating fire.

Sgt. Johnson took over a machine gun, as another solider provided magazines for then Sgt. 1st Class Johnson, Black and Wright.

Once the soldier resumed his position, Sgt. Johnson continued to engage the enemy with his carbine weapon.

Upon realizing the team was outnumbered, the team commander returned to the vehicles and ordered the team to break contact and withdraw south.

“I yelled out to (Jeremiah Johnson) who was at the front wheel … ‘We’re going to load up, we’re driving out of here. We’re pushing south out of the kill zone,'” one soldier who was interviewed said, according to the report. “I gave him a thumbs up. He gave me a thumbs-up back.”

A soldier told investigators that everyone recognized they were rolling out of the kill zone.

“There was no — like — we didn’t just roll off without these guys,” a soldier said in the report. “Everybody knew that we were moving.”

The finding of fact report states Wright slowly drove a vehicle as Black and Sgt. 1st Class Johnson walked alongside to provide suppressive fire.

Wright stopped the vehicle when Black was fatally wounded.

Wright and Sgt. 1st Class Johnson remained with Black and attempted to provide cover and assess his wounds, the report states.

Enemy fighters forced Wright andSgt. 1st Class Johnson to leave on foot, and Sgt. 1st Class Johnson was wounded about 85 meters away, the report states.

Wright stopped and returned to Johnson, and continued to engage the enemy until he was shot and killed.

Soldiers in two front vehicles noticed a third vehicle and its soldiers were not present.

Four American soldiers moved back on foot to find them.

Four other members of the team and about 25 Nigerian partners continued to engage the advancing enemy forces, the report states.

Sgt. LaDavid Johnson and two Nigerian soldiers were unable to reach the vehicle and were forced to run. All three were killed.

In a Feb. 23, 2018, memo for the secretary of defense, Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command, said Niger sought U.S. security force assistance.

Africa is home to several violent extremist organizations that threaten regional stability and U.S. national interests, and Niger faces threats of violent extremists at its borders and from groups affiliated with al-Qaida and the Islamic State, Waldhauser said.

Waldhauser said the ambush was a tactical surprise.

“No single factor within the control of U.S. forces was the proximate cause of our soldiers’ deaths,” he said. “Nevertheless, tactical decisions made in the course of combat caused confusion and were compounded by a lack of meaningful pre-mission rehearsals and interoperability challenges between U.S. and Nigerien forces.”

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(c) 2021 The Fayetteville Observer

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