U.S. Army / Silver Star
His arm shattered by enemy gunfire, he still led his platoon’s successful assault on Taliban
Standing atop a hill, he couldn’t see the Taliban snipers shooting at him in the first light of day. Even after dropping several mortar rounds on their suspected locations, Sgt. 1st Class James Brasher knew his unit had to go into the village.
“It became clear we weren’t going to get anything done unless we went down there,” he said of the Dec. 8, 2007, incident.
Brasher’s unit had spent months clearing out the Helmand River Valley in Afghanistan. And U.S. coalition and Afghan forces had launched a final attack to clear Musa Qala, a village controlled by the Taliban for nine months.
The paratroopers had air-assaulted near the town and spent most of the night hiking to a large hill with a cell phone tower. They expected an attack that night, but the Taliban waited. Then, using a series of thick, mud-walled compounds and lush green fields as cover, the enemy opened fire at daybreak.
Brasher, a platoon sergeant from the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and 1st Lt. Joseph McGovern led their platoon through the maze of compounds and irrigation ditches at the base of the hill. Taliban fighters waited, seemingly behind every corner, armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
Rushing through a web of alleys, Brasher and his squad ran straight into a Taliban gunman, whom Brasher killed. Each time the paratroopers moved, they ran into more fire. Several times, Brasher hurled grenades so his men could find cover.
When McGovern’s unit was attacked with machine-gun fire and RPGs, Brasher joined the other paratroopers. Taking his platoon to flank the gun site, Brasher’s arm was shattered by a machine-gun burst.
“It was like I got whacked with something and it pushed me back and to the right,” Brasher said. “I hit the ground and was screaming.”
He continued barking orders, and medics had to force him to submit to care. He desperately wanted to get the machine gunner who hit him.
“We need to kill this guy,” he urged his men. “We need to make sure he suffers in a very painful way.”
Brasher was evacuated after the fight but learned later that he and his men had killed 20 Taliban fighters during the three-hour battle.
“Usually the guys you kill are the guys in charge because they are braver,” Brasher said. “We had killed so many people in that spot they didn’t have anybody else to go up against us.”
For his gallantry, Army Maj. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, presented Brasher with a Silver Star, the Army’s third-highest award for bravery, at a ceremony in October 2008.
“He was always out front exposing himself, making sure it was safe before he put his men in any danger,” McGovern, Brasher’s platoon leader during the battle, said in a TV interview. “He would rather get hit than any of his other guys.”
Rehabilitating his arm has not been easy. Surgery three months ago allowed him to regain range of motion.
Brasher plans to stay in the Army and doesn’t see his actions as heroic.
“When you ask most people who get awards, you are just doing your job, really,” Brasher said. “So if that merits an award, I guess it does.
“The real honor is the guys that I was with seem to think I deserve that little bit of extra. They are the heroes. I am just the guy that shows them where to go.”
Kevin Maurer is a North Carolina-based writer who has traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan to cover military units.
U.S. Army / Silver Star
Born Sept. 19, 1979, in Albuquerque, N.M.
Wife, Skye; no children.
Joined Army in December 1998. Has been deployed twice to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan. His brother expects to deploy with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.
WHAT HE DID
Repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire while helping lead an assault on a village that was a Taliban stronghold, even after his arm had been shattered by a machine-gun burst.
WHERE HE IS NOW
Continues to serve with the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment in Fort Bragg, N.C., where he is rehabilitating his injured arm.
WHY HE JOINED THE ARMY
“To serve my country. It was always an option that I kept open the last few years in high school."
Afghanistan / Musa Qala