Award citations issued to the special operators who fought through an Oct. 4, 2017 ambush in Niger shed new light on the heroism that U.S. troops showed against an overwhelming force of ISIS fighters.
Army Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, Sgt. La David T. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black and Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah W. Johnson were all killed when their convoy was ambushed by more than 100 ISIS fighters. The rest of the team narrowly survived the ISIS attack and being fired on briefly by their rescuers. Subsequent investigations have found problems with how the mission was planned and how much training special operators had before deploying to Africa.
The four fallen soldiers and others who took part in the battle received valor awards. Task & Purpose obtained the award citations through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Wright and Sgt. LaDavid Johnson were awarded the Silver Star and Black and Jeremiah Johnson both received the Bronze Star with "V" device. They all gave their lives so that others might live, their citations say.
When the ambush started, each of the four soldiers acted "without regard for his own personal safety or life" to wade through heavy enemy fire without any cover to protect their teammates, the citations say.
Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright was also cited for braving enemy fire "to protect and recover two of his fallen comrades," his Silver Star citation says.
"Staff Sergeant Wright's actions were key in saving the lives of multiple other soldiers while still protecting two fallen soldiers," his award citation says.
In December 2018, the New York Time reported that Army Gen. Raymond Thomas, who led U.S. Special Operations Command at the time, had asked whether Army Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright "was eligible for the Medal of Honor."
All four soldiers are credited with killing "several enemy fighters before succumbing to his wounds."
Each of the four soldiers displayed personal bravery and devotion to duty are "in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon him, the United States Special Operations Command and the United States Army," their citations say.
In addition to showing how the four fallen soldiers fought to the end, the award citations also describe other service members' bravery that has remained a secret – until now.
Sgt. 1st Class Brent S. Bartels and Sgt. 1st Class David Hoffman both received the Silver Star for finding, recovering, and leading soldiers who had become lost and leading the team as it regrouped and fought on, their award citations say.
Both Bartels and Hoffman are credited with saving several soldiers' lives.
Hoffman was cited for helping to recover soldiers that had become geographically separated from the rest of the team.
"Sergeant First Class Hoffman's courage and dedication to his team were unmatched, engaging a numerically superior hostile force, recovering disoriented and scattered soldiers, and providing the leadership needed to organize and protect his team and partner forces," his citation reads.
Three other special operators whose names were redacted also received awards. One was awarded the Bronze Star with "V" device for maneuvering in open terrain under heavy enemy fire to regroup and lead the team. The other two received Army Commendation Medals.