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.

US Marine Corps

The Marine lieutenant colonel who was removed from command of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in May is accused of lying to investigators looking into allegations of misconduct, according to a copy of his charge sheet provided to Task & Purpose on Monday.

Read More Show Less

President Donald Trump just can't stop telling stories about former Defense Secretary James Mattis. This time, the president claims Mattis said U.S. troops were so perilously low on ammunition that it would be better to hold off launching a military operation.

"You know, when I came here, three years ago almost, Gen. Mattis told me, 'Sir, we're very low on ammunition,'" Trump recalled on Monday at the White House. "I said, 'That's a horrible thing to say.' I'm not blaming him. I'm not blaming anybody. But that's what he told me because we were in a position with a certain country, I won't say which one; we may have had conflict. And he said to me: 'Sir, if you could, delay it because we're very low on ammunition.'

"And I said: You know what, general, I never want to hear that again from another general," Trump continued. "No president should ever, ever hear that statement: 'We're low on ammunition.'"

Read More Show Less

At least one Air Force base is waging a slow battle against feral hogs — and way, way more than 30-50 of them.

A Texas trapper announced on Monday that his company had removed roughly 1,200 feral hogs from Joint Base San Antonio property at the behest of the service since 2016.

Read More Show Less

In a move that could see President Donald Trump set foot on North Korean soil again, Kim Jong Un has invited the U.S. leader to Pyongyang, a South Korean newspaper reported Monday, as the North's Foreign Ministry said it expected stalled nuclear talks to resume "in a few weeks."

A letter from Kim, the second Trump received from the North Korean leader last month, was passed to the U.S. president during the third week of August and came ahead of the North's launch of short-range projectiles on Sept. 10, the South's Joongang Ilbo newspaper reported, citing multiple people familiar with the matter.

In the letter, Kim expressed his willingness to meet the U.S. leader for another summit — a stance that echoed Trump's own remarks just days earlier.

Read More Show Less

Editor's Note: This article by Oriana Pawlyk originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

On April 14, 2018, two B-1B Lancer bombers fired off payloads of Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles against weapons storage plants in western Syria, part of a shock-and-awe response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons against his citizens that also included strikes from Navy destroyers and submarines.

In all, the two bombers fired 19 JASSMs, successfully eliminating their targets. But the moment would ultimately be one of the last — and certainly most publicized — strategic strikes for the aircraft before operations began to wind down for the entire fleet.

A few months after the Syria strike, Air Force Global Strike Command commander Gen. Tim Ray called the bombers back home. Ray had crunched the data, and determined the non-nuclear B-1 was pushing its capabilities limit. Between 2006 and 2016, the B-1 was the sole bomber tasked continuously in the Middle East. The assignment was spread over three Lancer squadrons that spent one year at home, then six month deployed — back and forth for a decade.

The constant deployments broke the B-1 fleet. It's no longer a question of if, but when the Air Force and Congress will send the aircraft to the Boneyard. But Air Force officials are still arguing the B-1 has value to offer, especially since it's all the service really has until newer bombers hit the flight line in the mid-2020s.

Read More Show Less