Steve H. Kim
U.S. Army / Bronze Star
Soldier repells more than 100 enemy ambushes
As the Army unit left the village in Afghanistan’s Kunar Valley on patrol, the soldiers’ became deadly serious, scanning a hill and straining to see an enemy fighter moving or the flash of a machine gun. Extra care was taken to keep good spacing, and no one lagged behind. Everyone had an extra bounce in their steps.
Then came the first shots-and chaos.
Spc. Steve Kim scrambled for cover and fired in the general direction of the attack.
Incidents such as this happened more than 100 times to Kim’s unit during its year-long deployment to the Kunar Province in northeastern Afghanistan.
“We never saw the enemy before they saw us. It always felt like a lopsided battle,” remembered Kim. “No matter how many enemy we killed or wounded, we’d never see how much damage we did.”
The paratroopers expected an attack on every patrol, and most times they were correct. When the unit wasn’t patrolling, it spent long backbreaking hours building an outpost.
The Army awarded every member of Kim’s company from the 2nd Battalion 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment with a Bronze Star for bravery under such intense combat conditions.
The Kunar Valley is a sharply cut “V” with rocky mountains and large trees. Much of its income comes from illegal timber sales. In 2006, U.S. coalition forces established the first government presence there in three decades.
The paratroopers built the outpost by hand, spending hours filling sandbags. They slept on the floor of the small compound, water was trucked in and there were few showers.
“It was pretty rough,” Kim said. “It got better the more we worked on it.”
But the paratroopers didn’t have a lot of time to work on the base. Their days were spent alternating between backbreaking labor at the outpost and white-knuckle patrols that ultimately ended in firefights.
The soldiers knew they’d be attacked as soon as they left the village.
The winter of 2007-2008 was quiet, but come spring the deeper the paratroopers went into the valley, the better chance they’d be attacked. The fighters set up while the paratroopers gave out humanitarian aid or met with village elders, with whom Kim’s commanders pleaded to help root out the enemy fighters. Progress, however, was slow.
As the patrol-usually no more than 20 paratroopers and four trucks armed with machine guns-left the outpost, the Afghan attackers would start firing.
The enemy attacks differed from other parts of the country where Taliban fighters just “spray and prayed,” firing as many non-aimed shots as they could before running off. In Kunar, the ambushes were well planned. First, attackers would pin down the American machine guns. Then, from a different direction, they’d attack the patrol. The attacks were intense, but usually lasted just a few minutes.
“It always felt sketchy, like they knew what it was going on,” Kim said. “Just keep fighting. Hopefully, they’ll go away and give us time to get out of there.”
Kim credits his squad leader, platoon sergeant and officers for keeping the unit motivated while facing regular attacks. He knew they were nervous too, but they never showed it.
Kim sees wearing the Bronze Star as recognition for a job well done: “It was pretty rough. I feel like we really did deserve it.”
Kevin Maurer is a North Carolina-based writer who has traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan to cover military units.
Steve H. Kim
U.S. Army / Bronze Star
Born Oct. 6, 1986, in Northridge, California.
Joined the U.S. Army in April 2006.
Was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503 Parachute Infantry Regiment.
What he did:
He and his unit repelled more than 100 enemy ambushes while patrolling the Kunar valley in northeastern Afghanistan.
Why he joined the Army:
"I joined the Army trying to do something adventurous."
Afghanistan / Kunar Province