UNSUNG HEROES: The Soldier Who Rode A John Deere ATV Into Battle

Unsung Heroes
U.S. Army photo by Sam Shore.

On Nov. 1, 2010, a young Afghan approached Sgt. Felipe Pereira and his team on a shiny motorcycle near the end of a daily dismounted patrol. Pereira checked his pockets and bike for explosives, the soldier later told Stars and Stripes, and finding nothing, shook the rider's hand. The calm and collected Afghan smiled at Pereira, and as the squad turned away toward the base, the motorist detonated explosives hidden on his vehicle.

Pereira, a team leader with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, had a weird feeling that something would go wrong that morning on their patrol. He decided to alter their path that usually ran along the perimeter of the expanse that separated their combat outpost from the city of Senjaray in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Winding through the middle, the patrol crossed the expanse safely and were headed home when the motorist approached.

He responded well to Pereira’s hand signals, and when the explosion occurred, the soldiers assumed it was from an improvised explosive device, not the young Afghan who politely cooperated moments before. They would later learn otherwise.

Two patrol members were killed instantly and four others sustained severe injuries. Pereira himself received shrapnel wounds to his spleen, liver, and left lung, according to his citation.

After the explosion, Pereira looked down to see his legs bleeding, riddled with holes. Within seconds, Taliban fighters surrounded the surviving men on three sides and opened fire.

The outpost was just behind them, but the Taliban were everywhere; dodging through trees, and taking pot shots from the market. Out of necessity, Pereira ran inside the base and found a John Deere Gator used to haul trash.

“That thing was bare bones,” Pereira told Stars and Stripes. “It was nothing you would ever take to combat whatsoever.

His lung began to collapse as he hurried to the base, choking him from the inside, but Pereira refused medical treatment because his men were alone, wounded, and needed help.

Struggling to breathe, Pereira rode the John Deere back into heavy enemy fire to provide a chance to evacuate his wounded soldiers, his citation recounts. Making it within 20 meters, he provided cover fire from his seat as his fellow soldiers loaded two of the wounded aboard. Bullets ricocheted off the vehicle, narrowly missing Pereira.

He made it back to the outpost with the wounded where medics waited to receive them. He then quickly returned with the vehicle to the battle to evacuate the remaining wounded men.

Once Pereira made it back inside the base with all his men safe, he took his helmet off and collapsed.

Pereira would recover from his injuries and return to his patrol duties a month later.

U.S. Army Sgt. Felipe Pereira an infantryman from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team "Strike", 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) sits with his wife, Candi and his mother, Denise, during the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) award ceremony for Pereira at McAuliffe Hall, Fort Campbell, Ky. on April 12, 2012.U.S. Army Photo by Sam Shore.


“I had people tell me, ‘Man, you’ve already paid your dues, go home now,’” Pereira told Stars and Stripes. “That was one day. I don’t want to be measured for the rest of my life against one day.

“I’d been in so many firefights prior to that. I was in so many firefights after that. But I wouldn’t feel right as a man to go home and let the other guys stay there.”

According to his Army biography, Pereira was born in Brazil and moved to the United States for college when he was 17 years old. Pereira enlisted in the Army in 2009, three years after earning a college degree. He would become a U.S. citizen in February of 2010 and deploy to Afghanistan the same year. Six months later, Pereira earned the second-highest commendation for valor in combat, the Distinguished Service Cross, for his actions that day.

“I couldn’t care less about my medal,” Pereira told Stars and Stripes. “I’m tremendously proud of it, but if there’s one thing we could take out of this entire thing is the sacrifice of those who never came back. They’re the real heroes.”

Every once in a while, we run across a photo in The Times-Picayune archives that's so striking that it begs a simple question: "What in the name of Momus Alexander Morgus is going on in this New Orleans photograph?" When we do, we've decided, we're going to share it — and to attempt to answer that question.

Read More Show Less
Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces control the monitor of their drone at their advanced position, during the fighting with Islamic State's fighters in Nazlat Shahada, a district of Raqqa. (Reuters/Zohra Bensemra)

MUSCAT (Reuters) - The United States should keep arming and aiding the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) following the planned U.S. withdrawal from Syria, provided the group keeps up the pressure on Islamic State, a senior U.S. general told Reuters on Friday.

Read More Show Less

President Donald Trump claims the $6.1 billion from the Defense Department's budget that he will now spend on his border wall was not going to be used for anything "important."

Trump announced on Friday that he was declaring a national emergency, allowing him to tap into military funding to help pay for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Read More Show Less

Long before Tony Stark took a load of shrapnel to the chest in a distant war zone, science fiction legend Robert Heinlein gave America the most visceral description of powered armor for the warfighter of the future. Forget the spines of extra-lethal weaponry, the heads-up display, and even the augmented strength of an Iron Man suit — the real genius, Heinlein wrote in Starship Troopers, "is that you don't have to control the suit; you just wear it, like your clothes, like skin."

"Any sort of ship you have to learn to pilot; it takes a long time, a new full set of reflexes, a different and artificial way of thinking," explains Johnny Rico. "Spaceships are for acrobats who are also mathematicians. But a suit, you just wear."

First introduced in 2013, U.S. Special Operations Command's Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) purported to offer this capability as America's first stab at militarized powered armor. And while SOCOM initially promised a veritable Iron Man-style tactical armor by 2018, a Navy spokesman told Task & Purpose the much-hyped exoskeleton will likely never get off the launch pad.

"The prototype itself is not currently suitable for operation in a close combat environment," SOCOM spokesman Navy Lt. Phillip Chitty told Task & Purpose, adding that JATF-TALOS has no plans for an external demonstration this year. "There is still no intent to field the TALOS Mk 5 combat suit prototype."

Read More Show Less

D-Day veteran James McCue died a hero. About 500 strangers made sure of it.

"It's beautiful," Army Sgt. Pete Rooney said of the crowd that gathered in the cold and stood on the snow Thursday during McCue's burial. "I wish it happened for every veteran's funeral."

Read More Show Less