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Gregory Ruske

U.S. Army / Silver Star

Solidier puts life on line to save wounded Afghan officer

As two Afghan National Police officers led his 10-man patrol through Afghanya in 2009, Army Spec. Gregory Ruske was getting a “bad vibe.” No women or children were visible—always a bad sign—just groups of teens and military-age males with hard, sharp faces.

And, Ruske recalled, “they were giving us the stink-eye.”

Although he was only seven months into his first tour, Ruske’s instincts would prove accurate. Waiting in ambush on the village outskirts, a large Taliban force opened up with AK-47′s, rocket-propelled grenades and PKM machine guns placed on the high ground.

With bullets snapping overhead, the soldiers and Afghan police hit the ground. Ruske bolted for cover behind a mud-brick house.

“The guys were still hugging the ground,” Ruske explained, “so I began to pump out (M-203 grenade) rounds to cover them.” As Ruske fired, the patrol began to run back to the house and a surrounding walled orchard.

But both Afghan officers had been wounded and were lying in the open. Ruske could see the Taliban rounds hitting the ground around them and knew it would be difficult to bring them to back to the house.

He tried to suppress the Taliban shooters with heavy fire as a few soldiers tried to drag the nearest officer to safety. Chaos reigned as the U.S. soldiers burst into the house, and Ruske yelled at the family inside to leave. With positions now both inside and outside the house, the patrol returned fire with their M-16′s and light machine guns.

Still, the situation worsened. The radioman didn’t have the correct frequencies, and was unable to call for close-air support, medical help or the armored Quick Relief Force sitting at the nearby forward operating base from which the patrol had been dispatched.

Somehow, though, the frantic calls found receptive ears.

The communication team at the base overheard them and dispatched the relief force, but it, too, was ambushed as it approached Afghanya.

A Marine commander also picked up the calls, and dispatched helicopter gunships. But with the radioman unable to talk to the gunships, the pilots were unwilling to engage the enemy.

Ruske knew his patrol’s situation was deteriorating, so he crawled up a wooden ladder to the roof, and began firing from a better vantage point.

An hour had passed from the initial contact, and the levels of fire had slowed, but the patrol was running low on ammunition and water. And now Ruske could see Taliban fighters maneuvering down the mountain.

Suddenly, another volley of insurgent fire ripped across the roof. Ruske reached around to his back, and his hand came away bloody. A bullet had hit him in the hip and punched out his back. The patrol hadn’t brought a medic, so his sergeant field-dressed the wound. Ruske picked up his grenade launcher and resumed fire.

Ruske could see the remaining Afghan police officer crawling slowly towards the house. Ignoring his own wound, Ruske jumped from the roof and dashed towards the Afghan. He and another soldier dragged him back to the house, and proceeded to dress the man’s multiple gunshot wounds.

By late morning, the relief force eventually fought through its ambush. Among the soldiers, they found Ruske, down to his last few rounds and still fighting.

Andrew Lubin is a freelance writer from Pennsylvania who has embedded with the Marine Corps in Iraq; Afghanistan; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and Beirut, Lebanon. He is the author of “Charlie Battery: A Marine Artillery Unit in Iraq.”

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Army Reserve Spec. Gregory Ruske smiles as he returns to his vehicle after soldiers from his unit met with key leaders in a small village in the Kapisa Province of Afghanistan, in June 2008. The soldiers were able to reach the village only by climbing the steep rocky hills that surround it. Photo courtesy U.S. Army Reserves.

  • Ruske-with-propeller
  • Ruske-with-wounded

Gregory Ruske

U.S. Army / Silver Star

Born Dec. 29, 1979, in Colorado Springs, Colorado

Enlisted in the U.S. Army in May 2004. Assigned to Task Force Gladiator, 101st Airborne Division, at the time of the battle that led to his Silver Star.

What he did:
He led the rescue of two Afghan National Police officers while under heavy fire and despite being shot in the hip.

Where he is now:
He is a juvenile corrections officer and lives in Aurora, Colorado. He is also a sergeant in the Army Reserve.

Why he joined the Army:
“I thought I owed the country something for everything I'd been given. Plus both my dad and my grandfather had served in the Army, so joining up was actually a rather easy decision.”

Afghanistan / Kapisa

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