A Tribute to Special Operations Medal of Honor Recipients

Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry.

Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry.

Special Forces are considered the military’s elite – the Rangers, Green Berets, and Navy SEALS among others.  And the elite of the elite are the Special Forces who have been awarded the Medal of Honor.

Two of them were recognized this week and their names added to the Special Operations Memorial Wall of Honor at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry, an Army Ranger, watched as his name was unveiled. It is one of 45 names etched into the black granite tiles.

His Medal of Honor citation states that Petry risked his life above and beyond the call of duty and “undeniably saved his fellow Rangers” on May 26, 2008.

“I still look at the day and I’m still in amazement that I’m here,” Petry told reporters after the ceremony. “My youngest son (Landon) said it the best. He said ‘I’m really proud of my dad but more happy that some of his friends are still alive.’”

Petry was on his sixth deployment to Afghanistan. His team was attacked while clearing a compound of suspected insurgents. He was shot in both legs, took cover and fired back. Then a grenade hit wounding two Rangers just behind him. Petry turned and spotted a second grenade next to his wounded men. He picked it up to throw it as hard as he could.

Petry lost his right hand throwing away the enemy's live grenade but he saved two fellow Rangers.

Petry lost his right hand throwing away the enemy’s live grenade but he saved two fellow Rangers.

“As soon as my hand opened up, the grenade exploded and I sat back up and my hand was completely gone at the wrist like it had been severed with a circular saw,” Petry said with the analytical calmness of a professional soldier. “It went through my mind for a split second, why isn’t the blood squirting into the air, then reality kicked in. I got back to my good medical training put on a tourniquet, called up on the radio, checked on my younger guys.”

Petry remained coherent,  insisting his fellow Rangers be cared for first. He wanted to get back in the fight. Continue reading

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A View from Inside a Turret and Under a Green Beret

Green Beret and author Tony Schwalm.

Green Beret and author Tony Schwalm.

Tony Schwalm commanded a tank company in Desert Storm, but it left him with a gnawing feeling that the mission was incomplete. So, he gave up the status he’d earned in the conventional Army to forge a new path as an “unconventional warrior” – a Green Beret.

Schwalm not only made it through the Special Forces Qualifications Course – known as the Q Course – he was later brought back to help redesign the test of physical strength, stamina and wits.

Now a retired Lt. Colonel, Schwalm traces his personal journey from tank commander to commander of Special Forces officer training at Ft. Bragg in his book: The Guerrilla Factory: The Making of Special Forces Officers – The Green Berets.

Schwalm is a Tampa Bay resident who just returned from Afghanistan where he was assigned to the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force as a Army civilian leading a group of social scientists supporting special operations forces.

“On the ground, you are, especially in Afghanistan, you are living in a completely asymmetrical 360  degree shooting gallery,” Schwalm said. “You don’t know where the threat is, there’s no lines, there’s no rear area. Everyone, over there, lives in harms’ way.”

The 11-year conflict in Afghanistan and his experience in Desert Storm shaped Schwalm’s strong belief in the value of Special Forces or SF.

Courtesy: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Courtesy: Simon & Schuster

He wrote his book so people would understand the training – both physical and mental – behind Special Operations forces. He also wanted to explain the differences between say a Navy SEAL and an Army Green Beret.

Schwalm splits them into two camps: Superman and Daniel Boone.

“The Superman is the one that most civilians think of, a barrel-chested freedom fighter, very handy with his weapons, physically attractive as well. You want the whole package,” Schwalm said. “Superman does things on a very short timeline usually measured in minutes or hours.”

He said Daniel Boone better describes the Special Forces warrior like a Green Beret because he’s known for working with other cultures over a long period of time.

“He learns languages. He lives with people. He subjects himself to great privation going for long, long expeditions,” Schwalm said. “That resonates with me because Army Special Forces, the Green Berets, when they go they go for a long time measured in months and years and that’s what Afghanistan has become.”

He said the book is for anyone who wants to know what it means to be in the military – what it means to send out U.S. Forces whether conventional or Special Forces.

“This is what it looks like from inside the turret. This is what it looks like from under the Green Beret,” Schwalm said.

Listen to Schwalm read a section of his book HERE.

Defense Secretary Panetta on Special Forces Rescue

Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta

The following is a statement released by Sec. Leon Panetta on the Tuesday night rescue of an American and a Danish citizen who had been held captive in Somalia:

Last night U.S. Special Operations Forces conducted, by order of the President of the United States, a successful mission in Somalia to rescue two individuals taken hostage on October 25, 2011. Ms. Jessica Buchanan, an American citizen employed by the Danish Demining Group, and her Danish colleague, Mr. Poul Thisted, were kidnapped at gunpoint by criminal suspects near Galcayo, Somalia.

Ms. Buchanan and Mr. Thisted have been transported to a safe location where we will evaluate their health and make arrangements for them to return home.

This successful hostage rescue, undertaken in a hostile environment, is a testament to the superb skills of courageous service members who risked their lives to save others.  I applaud their efforts, and I am pleased that Ms. Buchanan and Mr. Thisted were not harmed during the operation.  This mission demonstrates our military’s commitment to the safety of our fellow citizens wherever they may be around the world.

I am grateful to report that there was no loss of life or injuries to our personnel.

I express my deepest gratitude to all the military and civilian men and women who supported this operation.  This was a team effort and required close coordination, especially between the Department of Defense and our colleagues in the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  They are heroes and continue to inspire all of us by their bravery and service to our nation.

Special Ops Memorial to Add 30 Names of Fallen Forces

There are close to 800 names of Special Forces killed in combat or training since 1980 on the black stone walls of the Special Operations Memorial, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa.

The Pentagon Thursday released the names of the 30 U.S. military personnel killed in the helicopter shoot-down in Afghanistan over the weekend. Those names will be added to the Special Operations Memorial located at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base.

U.S. Special Forces are known as the “Quiet Warriors.” Most of their missions and many of their losses never become public.  That’s why  Geoff Barker, a former member of the British and U.S. special forces, helped establish the Special Forces Memorial Foundation.

With private funds, the foundation built a memorial to all Special Forces killed in action or in training. After 9-11, the memorial had to be expanded to handle all the names.

A bronze statue of a Special Operations warrior stands at the ready in the center of the memorial.

The outdoor memorial has black stone walls covered with tiles that are engraved with the names of Special Forces lost starting from 1980 to the present.

Barker will soon mount 30 more engraved tiles for each of the men killed in the Chinook helo crash in Afghanistan.

“I managed to survive,” Barker said. “The least that I can do for those who have given everything for their country is to place their names there and perform this service for them.“

Barker knows many of those named on the wall. “Most of the names that I see now do not have that personal connection, but they are let’s just say part of the brotherhood.”

Each Veterans Day and Memorial Day – the Special Operations Memorial Foundation holds a ceremony where the names of the recently fallen are read.

The Special Operations Memorial was built entirely with private funds. It's black walls curve into a shape of a spear tip and the walkway teading to the memorial forms the spear's shaft.

ISAF Strikes Taliban Linked to Downing Special Forces

The following is an ISAF Joint Command News Release:

KABUL, Afghanistan – Coalition forces killed the Taliban insurgents involved with the recent downing of the CH-47 helicopter, with a precision airstrike in Chak District, Wardak province, Aug 9.

The strike killed Taliban leader Mullah Mohibullah and the insurgent who fired the shot associated with the Aug. 6 downing of the CH-47 helicopter, which resulted in the deaths of 38 Afghan and coalition service members.

Mullah Mohibullah was a key facilitator in an insurgent attack cell led by Din Mohammad, a Taliban leader killed in a previous special operations mission. As a leader in Mohammad’s network in Tangi Valley, Mohibullah had as many as 12 Taliban fighters under his command, including potential suicide bombers.

On the night of the crash, the inbound CH-47 carried special operations forces intended to pursue insurgents from Mohammad’s network that were fleeing an engagement in which six militants had already been killed. While it has not been determined if enemy fire was the sole reason for the helicopter crash, it did take fire from several insurgent locations on its approach.

After an exhaustive manhunt, special operations forces located Mullah Mohibullah and the shooter after receiving multiple intelligence leads and tips from local citizens. The two men were attempting to flee the country in order to avoid capture.

The security force located and followed the insurgents to a wooded area in Chak District. After ensuring no civilians were in the area, the force called for the airstrike which resulted in the deaths of the Mullah Mohibullah, the shooter, and several of their Taliban associates.

The security force assesses no civilians were harmed during the strike.

The International Security Assistance Force website.

Children of Fallen Special Forces Offered Free College

The remains of the 30 Special Operations forces killed this weekend in Afghanistan came home to the U.S. Tuesday.  Their families, fellow service members and President Barack Obama were at Dover Air Force Base to pay tribute to the fallen.

In the next few months, the Tampa based Special Operations Warrior Foundation will also offer its help – a free college education for the children of those killed.

The Special Operations Warrior Foundation was founded in 1980 by fellow warriors who wanted to make sure the children of special forces killed in training or action could go to college.

Melinda Petrignani was 8 months old when her father, an Army Ranger, was killed. The Warrior Foundation helped her graduate from DePaul University in 2008. Petrignani said they provided more than financial assistance.

“We’re an extended family to all these children,” said Petrignani who started working for the organization about a year ago. “I’m there as a mentor to them, as a friend, as someone they can talk to when they might not be able to talk to their parents.”

So far, nearly 200 children have graduated, about 140 are in college and there are commitments by the Special Forces Warriors Foundation to 600 more children who are not yet college age.

And that same offer will be made to the children of those just lost. You can learn more about the four-star rated charity SpecialOps.org.

You can listen to Melinda tell her story and talk about her work at the foundation  HERE – Melinda talks with WUSF 89.7FM .

Navy SEALs Transfer Command at Special Operations

Departing SOCOM Commander Adm. Eric Olson visited with Afghan leaders as part of his job. Photo courtesy of the Dept. of Defense.

Hailed as a true legend among Special Forces and as the first four star Navy SEAL, Admiral Eric Olson stepped down Monday as Commander of U.S. Special Operations after leading the joint command at MacDill Air Force Base for more than four years.

Olson said his Change of Command ceremony, attended by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, was made even more poignant by the deaths of 22 SEALs, three Air Force and five Army aviators over the weekend.

“This is a force in which America can be and should be intensely proud and it is a force that America surely needs,” Olson said. “Osama bin Laden is dead but Al Qaeda version 2.0 is brewing.”

New SOCOM Commader Adm. Bill McRaven passes the Special Operations Command flag to Command Sgt. Maj. Tommy Smith. Photo courtesy of SOCOM.

The loss of 30 U.S. Special Operations forces was foremost on the mind of Panetta as he oversaw the SOCOM ceremony in Tampa.

“They were far from home, but we know that they were also where they wanted to be doing what they wanted to do alongside men who were perhaps closer to them than their own brothers,” Panetta said making his first public comments since the losses.

“As heavy a loss as this was, it would even be more tragic if we allowed it to derail this country from our efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and deny them a safe haven in Afghanistan,” Panetta said.

The ceremony was broadcast live from MacDill on the Pentagon Channel and transmitted worldwide to Special Operations teams in remote settings. Those forces witnessed the transfer of the colors from Adm. Olson to their new commander, Adm. Bill McRaven who also is a Navy SEAL.

“The world today is as unpredictable as ever,” McRaven said. “And as such, the American people will expect us to be prepared for every contingency, to answer every call to arms, to venture where other forces cannot and to win every fight no matter how tough or how long.”

McRaven then told the Secretary of Defense that Special Forces will not let him down.

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