Four heroic soldiers killed nearly two years ago when they were ambushed by more than 100 ISIS fighters in Niger have posthumously received valor awards, defense officials announced on Wednesday.
Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright and Sgt. La David T. Johnson have both been awarded the Silver Star, a defense official said. Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black and Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah W. Johnson have both received the Bronze Star with “V” device.
They were killed on Oct. 4, 2017 near the village of Tongo Tongo.
Two other special operators involved with the mission will receive the Silver Star; one will receive the Bronze Star with “V” device; one will receive the Army Commendation Medal with “V” device; and one will receive the Army Commendation Medal with “C” device, said Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Candice Tresch.
The Pentagon is not releasing those special operators' names, Tresch said.
“Until presented it is a private matter,” she told Task & Purpose. “In addition, when talking Special Forces, there are additional sensitivities with highlighting their names.”
Defense officials announced the valor awards while talking to reporters about the conclusion of a review into the Niger ambush, which was briefed to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on May 29.
“Now that the reviews have all been done and been completed we can highlight the valor of the team,” a defense official said. “We can provide information to the families and we can award those for valor.”
None of the nine service members recognized for their heroism that day have been nominated for the Medal of Honor, a defense official said.
The four fallen soldiers were part of a group of U.S. special operators and Nigerien troops on a mission to capture or kill a terrorist leader.
When their convoy was ambushed by a much larger enemy force, the four soldiers put up a hell of a fight, but they were eventually overwhelmed, according to a redacted copy of the U.S. Africa Command's investigation into the incident, which was provided to Task & Purpose.
After fighting the enemy for roughly 20 minutes at the ambush site, the team tried to break contact. But as the convoy left the scene of the ambush, the convoy lost sight of a sport utility vehicle with Wright, Black and Jeremiah Johnson, who remained in the kill zone.
White drove the SUV slowly while Jeremiah Johnson and Black provided suppressing fire. After Black was killed by enemy fire, White stopped the vehicle and both he and Jeremiah Johnson stayed with fallen soldier until they were forced to run from the oncoming enemy.
About 85 meters from the SUV, Jeremiah Johnson was shot and severely wounded. Wright stopped and ran to Jeremiah Johnson and they both continued to fight.
“From a small cluster of bushes near SSG J. Johnson, SSG Write made a final stand,” the investigation said. “Attempting to protect SSG. J. Johnson, SSG Wright fired his M4 rifle at the enemy as they advanced on his position until he was fatally wounded. The enemy killed both soldiers with small arms fire.”
The rest of the convoy stopped about 700 meters from the ambush site when they were attacked again. La David Johnson ran out of ammunition for his M-240B machine gun, so he switched to an M2010 sniper rifle and continued fighting.
Once again, the convoy broke contact, but enemy fire was so heavy that La David Johnson was unable to get back into his vehicle. He was last seen in a prone fighting position along with two Nigerien troops.
All three ran from their attackers, but the Nigeriens were killed. La David Johnson kept fighting until the very end.
“SGT Johnson moved another 445 meters and made it to the only concealment in the vicinity, a single thorny tree,” the investigation said. “There, SGT Johnson continued to return fire against the pursing enemy. The enemy suppressed SGT Johnson with a vehicle-mounted DShK machine gun. The DShK fire ignited a blaze to the west and south of SGT Johnson's position. Dismounted enemy then maneuvered on SGT. Johnson and killed him with small arms fire.”
His body was found two days later.