UNSUNG HEROES: The Staff Sergeant Who Prevented The Taliban From Overrunning His Outpost

Unsung Heroes
Gen. Cart Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe, awards Staff Sgt. Erich R. Phillips the Distinguished Service Cross, Sept. 15, 2008. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Brandon Aird

On Aug. 22, 2007, Staff Sgt. Erich R. Phillips was asleep in a remote outpost in the mountains of Afghanistan when the Taliban launched an assault on his compound. Phillips quickly organized his men to repel the attackers, and protected his outpost from the attacking force much larger and better equipped than his own.

Phillips, the mortar platoon sergeant for Chosen Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, was asleep high up in the mountains at Ranch House Outpost, approximately 7,000 feet above sea level in the Hindu Kush mountain range in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, according to Stars and Stripes.

Around 5 a.m., two soldiers ran into Phillips’ room to alert him to the attack, but he was already on the move. "I was asleep in my bunk," Phillips told Stars and Stripes. "I woke up to [rocket-propelled grenades] slamming into the side of my building.”

Between 60–80 Taliban fighters had drafted a well-prepared, three-pronged attack using detailed mapping of the compound, the Army later found. A video was posted online of the fighters preparing for the assault on a website belonging to Taliban extremists. “Their plan was to overrun our forward operation base,” said Phillips. Only 22 American soldiers were there at the time, working alongside Afghan National Army soldiers. Small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades were flying at every defended position. They were outnumbered and outgunned.

Taliban fighters quickly breached the perimeter and overtook a weapons and ammo cache belonging to the Afghan National Army and an Afghan private security firm. They quickly used those weapons to augment their attack.

"At this point all communication was lost with Post 3 and Post 4," Phillips told the Army. Post 3 had collapsed with one of his men, Pfc. Jeddah Deloria, trapped underneath. The other soldiers from Post 3 Deloria retreated to Post 2.

Phillips organized the men around the outpost’s tactical operations center, even though it was clear the soldiers were outnumbered. Machine gun, small-arms, and rocket-propelled grenade fire continued to hit outpost.

He began to relay information to 1st Lt. Matthew Ferrara, the platoon leader, who was on the radio calling in artillery and close-air support, but the Taliban quickly destroyed the radio antenna. According to his citation, Phillips employed the 60-mm mortars in response to Taliban fire. Ferrara moved the operations center outside and got communications back using a dismounted radio.

Hearing of casualties, Phillips took the platoon medic, Sgt. Kyle Dirkintis, and began to run toward Post 2. The other soldiers used hand grenades and small-arms fire to cover their movement, but they were pinned down next to the living quarters near the destination.

"At this point, Soldiers at Post 2 yelled down to me that two enemy fighters were on the other end of the building I was taking cover on," said Phillips.

From only three meters away, Phillips rolled two hand grenades over the roof.

"Once the explosion went off doc (Dirkintis) realized how bad we were taking fire and he came from behind cover to fire and was shot in the chest," Phillips told the Army. Post 2 provided covering fire as Phillips dragged Dirkintis down a hill. Reaching a mortar pit, he began to perform first aid. Dirkintis was coughing up blood from a collapsed lung.

Directing another soldier to treat the wounded medic, Phillips began firing and directing his platoon’s grenades toward the Taliban. An A-10 Warthog arrived and began to strafe the base.

The Air Force attack plane was crucial in repelling the Taliban that until this point was actively advancing. Phillips was able to lead a team to recover the injured Deloria, who had been trapped under Post 3 for over two hours.

"Once I climbed the ladder to Post 3 I could see the post had taken severe damage and had fallen on top of Deloria," recounted Phillips. "Deloria had attempted to blow all four claymore mines. He even applied first aid to himself and was holding his weapon when I found him.”

Phillips tried to carry Deloria back down to the casualty collection point, but Deloria stopped him.

“I want to walk sergeant,” the injured soldier said.

Phillips prepped the wounded for evacuation and personally assured their departure until the quick reaction force arrived. Phillips immediately led the group to retake the lost sections of the base.

When the battle was over, two Afghan soldiers were killed — one contractor and one soldier — and half the American soldiers were wounded, but all survived. The base was not overrun. “We didn’t allow them,” Phillips told Stars and Stripes. “We fought hard.”

"I just tried to maintain the front line," Phillips told the Army. "The other Soldiers deserve just as much recognition as me."

On Sept. 15, 2008, Phillips was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions that day. The Distinguished Service Cross is the second highest award for valor in combat, just behind the Medal of Honor. He would earn a Silver Star medal, the third highest award for valor in combat, just a year later for a separate engagement in Wanat.

Jacob Daniel Price (Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office)

An ex-Marine faces premeditated murder charges after admitting to killing his parents and the two family dogs, according to the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office.

Read More Show Less

My brother earned the Medal of Honor for saving countless lives — but only after he was left for dead

"As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night."


Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

Air Force Master Sgt. John "Chappy" Chapman is my brother. As one of an elite group, Air Force Combat Control — the deadliest and most badass band of brothers to walk a battlefield — John gave his life on March 4, 2002 for brothers he never knew.

They were the brave men who comprised a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that had been called in to rescue the SEAL Team 6 team (Mako-30) with whom he had been embedded, which left him behind on Takur Ghar, a desolate mountain in Afghanistan that topped out at over 10,000 feet.

As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night. After many delays, the mission should and could have been pushed one day, but Szymanski ordered the team to proceed as planned, and Britt "Slab" Slabinski, John's team leader, fell into step after another SEAL team refused the mission.

But the "plan" went even more south when they made the rookie move to insert directly atop the mountain — right into the hands of the bad guys they knew were there.

Read More Show Less

Sen. Rick Scott is backing a bipartisan bill that would allow service members to essentially sue the United States government for medical malpractice if they are injured in the care of military doctors.

The measure has already passed the House and it has been introduced in the Senate, where Scott says he will sign on as a co-sponsor.

"As a U.S. Senator and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, taking care of our military members, veterans and their families is my top priority," the Florida Republican said in a statement.

Read More Show Less

Little girls everywhere will soon have the chance to play with a set of classic little green Army soldiers that actually reflect the presence of women in the armed forces.

Read More Show Less
Turkish and Russian patrol is seen near the town of Darbasiyah, Syria, Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. (Associated Press/Baderkhan Ahmad)

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia landed attack helicopters and troops at a sprawling air base in northern Syria vacated by U.S. forces, the Russian Defence Ministry's Zvezda TV channel said on Friday.

On Thursday, Zvezda said Russia had set up a helicopter base at an airport in the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli, a move designed to increase Moscow's control over events on the ground there.

Qamishli is the same city where Syrian citizens pelted U.S. troops and armored vehicles with potatoes after President Donald Trump vowed to pull U.S. troops from Syria.

Read More Show Less