The Bronze Star with valor was awarded Thursday to a Fort Bliss soldier who lobbed mortars from exposed ground onto an ISIS fighting position attempting to target wounded friendlies during a fight in eastern Afghanistan two years ago.
On Aug. 16, 2017, Spc. Collin Jackson was serving as an uplift soldier for an Army Special Forces team operating alongside Afghan commandos from the 8th Special Operations Kandak. The troops were working in the Mohmand Valley of southern Nangarhar province, a rugged mountain region near Pakistan.
That area has long been a hotbed of ISIS activity. The militant group managed to carve out and hold a sliver of territory there for years, withstanding much of the U.S. pressure to uproot it.
At the time, Jacksonâ€™s unit was conducting a clearance operation when they came under heavy machine gun fire from ISIS fighters.
â€œAfter taking fierce enemy contact from a machine gun, and indirect fire for over eight hours, the combined U.S. and Afghan element consolidated at an isolated compound on the valley floor in order to secure a defensible, remain-over-night position,â€ Army Lt. Col. Jon Fausnaugh, Jacksonâ€™s regiment commander, said during the ceremony.
â€œAs the dismounted element finished clearing the compound, an explosive weapon of unknown origin suddenly detonated, wounding 30 personnel and ultimately killing four,” Fausnaugh said, reading from Jacksonâ€™s citation.
An Army Green Beret, Staff Sgt. Aaron R. Butler, was killed during the battle. A statement from the Pentagon said that Butler died from an IED.
Initial reports indicated that the building may have been wired with explosives, and the soldiers were struck upon entry. Butler was the only American listed as killed in action during the incident.
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Afghan commandos provide mounted security during a clearing operation in Shnah Kanda village, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, Dec. 11, 2017. (Staff Sgt. Matthew Klene/ Army)
Jackson immediately responded to a radio call for help. He dismounted from his armored vehicle and ran towards the mass casualty event.
He began to help collect the wounded, moving them to a casualty collection point when ISIS fighters emerged to exploit the chaos and confusion. The militants opened fire from positions to the west, south and north of the friendlies.
Jackson continued moving the wounded through the onslaught of gunfire, at one point stopping to perform CPR on â€œa critical American casualty,â€ Fausnaugh said.
After the wounded were staged for helicopter evacuation in an open wheat field, Jackson went back to his vehicle, which was still under heavy fire from small arms and RPGs.
He retrieved a 60mm mortar from the truck and began engaging an enemy position firing at his comrades.
â€œJackson had no choice but to fight from an exposed position in front of his vehicle,â€ Fausnaugh said. â€œHe was vulnerable, but had good field to fire and courageously held his ground.â€
Jackson destroyed the ISIS position after sighting in and lobbing six mortar rounds on top of it. He remained in that exposed position for more than an hour.
Coalition airstrikes pound ISIS-K fighting positions in Pekha Valley, Achin district, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, Feb. 17, 2018. (Spc. Jacob Krone/Army)
The Army credited Jackson with defending the medical evacuation of 13 critically wounded friendly troops and helping to end a complex assault by ISIS fighters on his element.
â€œI just want to thank Bravo Battery. Thatâ€™s who I was with at the time,” Jackson said after receiving the award Thursday. “I want to thank Capt. [name withheld]. He gave me a lot of mentorship right before deployment. That meant a lot to me.â€
The ceremony was held in front of M109A7 Paladin howitzers and attended by troops from Jacksonâ€™s unit â€” 2nd Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.
Jacksonâ€™s current brigade commander, Col. Michael J. Trotter, told the assembled troops that their mechanized, up-armored vehicles are nothing without the work done by individual soldiers like Jackson.
â€œWe can talk about the most modern pieces of equipment in the world â€” tank, Paladin, M88 â€” all important tools, but none more important than you, represented right here,â€ Trotter said, pointing to Jackson.