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Joshua E. Simson

U.S. Navy / Silver Star

Medic braves enemy fire to aide nearly 20 wounded comrades

The mission seemed simple: A joint U.S.-Afghan National Army patrol was to meet with village elders at the small village of Saret Kholet to discuss security issues. Hospitalman Third Class Joshua Simson would advise the Afghan medics in battlefield medicine.

But as the patrol set up an observation post near a river crossing in the rugged mountains of Nuristan Province, a squad of Afghan soldiers ran into enemy fighters. A firefight quickly broke out, and the patrol sustained several casualties.

“It was a well-planned, well-executed ambush,” Simson recalled. “They almost had us surrounded.”

It was only the beginning. Fire intensified, casualties mounted and the battle would rage throughout the day of July 27, 2007, lasting over seven hours.

Simson, then 23, went into action. Amidst incoming small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, he moved throughout the battle space, laying down suppressive fire and providing desperately needed aide to the wounded, at times in plain view of the enemy.

“Sometimes you don’t have a choice, you just have to go through fire to get those guys,” Simson said. “But I know they would do the same for me. Those are my brothers out there, so I just did what I could to help them.”

At one point, an RPG struck the triage position Simson had set up to care for the wounded. A bit dazed but unharmed, he shook it off and went back to work, doing his best to focus on the job at hand.

“There are a whole range of emotions you go through,” he said. “Excitement, as strange as that sounds, to downright fear. It was definitely one of the scariest days of my life. Ultimately you rely on your training and your muscle memory kicks in, so you do your job.”

As the joint patrol attempted to withdraw, another Afghan soldier was shot while providing cover. Simson immediately ran through the kill zone to aid the dying man. After finally moving to safety, Simson, the only uninjured medic, managed the evacuation of the wounded.

“Doc” Simson is credited with treating nearly 20 wounded comrades that day, all while braving intense enemy fire. He was awarded the Silver Star for his willingness to risk death, “coupled with his composure under fire,” the Navy said.

Medals and accolades were not what motivated him on the battlefield, Simson said. In the end, it all came back to the reasons why he became a corpsman in the first place.

“I knew about the history of the corpsmen, especially in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and of the extraordinary valor and great men who served with the Marines. And that appealed to me, so I wanted to do that.

And few jobs offer such an opportunity to help others.

“I just see somebody go down or get hurt and I want to help them out, Simson said. “That, and seeing other acts of bravery from the men around me. They received just as much fire as I did. We were all in it together.”

Tim Holbert is program director of the American Veterans Center in Arlington, Va.

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Lt. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, commander of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, pins the Silver Star on Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Joshua Simson on Feb. 26, 2008 at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Simson received the military's third highest award for valor for his actions in a seven-hour firefight July 27, 2007, in Nuristan province, Afghanistan. Photo by Lance Cpl. Brian M. Woodruff

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Joshua E. Simson

U.S. Navy / Silver Star

Born May 6, 1984. Hometown is Overland Park, Kansas.

Joined the Navy on Sept. 20, 2005, and was deployed for his first tour of duty in Afghanistan in July, 2007.

At time of the incident was Hospitalman Third Class, embedded with a training team as part of the Third Marine Division. Later promoted to Hospitalman Second Class.

Two cousins since have joined the Army.

Exposing himself repeatedly to enemy fire, he provided battlefield medical care to at least 20 U.S. and Afghan army soldiers wounded in a firefight.

“Since I was a little kid, I've been interested in the military. I've always felt that there are a lot of freedoms that we enjoy in America, and they are worth fighting for. I felt an obligation to serve my country and give something back.”

Afghanistan / Nurestan

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