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Stephen J. Boada

U.S. Marine Corps / Silver Star

He put himself in the line of fire while coordinating the removal of two fallen fellow Marines

Two of his Marines were dying just a few feet away, and gunfire all but pinned him to the ground. As he crouched behind a rock near the mouth of a cave, 1st Lt. Stephen James Boada could just about reach out and touch Lance Cpl. Nicholas C. Kirven, felled by gunfire coming from inside.

Kirven was unresponsive, but Cpl. Richard P. Schoener, wounded and bleeding nearby, was talking. Boada and Cpl. Troy Arndt, crouched behind another rock, told Schoener to hold on.

It was May 8, 2005. Mother’s Day. In Afghanistan’s Alishang Valley, Boada and two squads of Marines dug into a hillside.

With bullets ripping into the ground and rock around him, Arndt managed to get a hand on Schoener and tried to pull him to cover, to no avail. Boada crawled over to help, but Schoener’s flak vest ripped as the two Marines tugged at it.

The enemy gunmen, well sheltered in the cave, seemed to have plenty of ammunition. Boada tried tossing a smoke grenade into the entryway, hoping it would provide enough cover for a quick rescue. No good.

Boada had one fragmentation grenade. As Arndt and other Marines provided covering fire, Boada popped up above the rocks — fully visible to the enemy — and hurled the grenade into the cave. The fire kept coming. Arndt pulled another grenade off Schoener, and Boada popped up again to throw it.

Marines farther down the hill prepped other grenades and passed them forward. After the fourth blast, the cave went silent.

Medics rushed forward to tend to Schoener and Kirven.

“No one’s moving. No one’s breathing,” Boada recalled. “They just lost too much blood.”

The Marines had hiked up and down a ridge more than six miles from an Afghan village in pursuit of the fighters in the cave. They were farther up the rugged and remote valley than coalition forces had previously penetrated. Now they had two fallen comrades to carry out. Bad weather made a helicopter pickup impossible.

And other enemy fighters were all over the area, tracking the Marines from a ridgeline and looking down on the platoon to plan and launch attacks.

An Afghan interpreter with the Marines overheard their chatter on the radio: The Americans would not get out alive, they said.

“It was ugly,” recalled Boada, 26 at the time. “We tried just about every recovery technique the Marine Corps teaches you.”

The Marines took turns carrying the bodies, fireman-style, over their shoulders. They fashioned litters from their ponchos, but none lasted long.

They commandeered two donkeys in one village. The terrain was so rugged, Boada said, “Even the donkeys, after about 20 minutes, they quit.”

Several Marines, including Boada, were wounded. A citation accompanying the Silver Star he received months later describes how he “continued to fearlessly lead his Marines as they fought off a tenacious enemy while other members of the unit extracted their fallen comrades.”

Boada shrugs off the award: “You get rewarded for doing your job.”

As darkness arrived, the Marines overheard more enemy radio traffic: Ambushes were being set ahead. Boada twice called in AC-130 Spectre gunships, which were able to spot and shoot fighters who were preparing traps. His “tactical acumen in directing these aircraft saved many lives in the platoon,” his award citation reads.

“We would have been in a tough spot, a much tougher spot if not for those guys,” Boada said. “They did some phenomenal things for us.”

Dale Eisman covered the Pentagon and the U.S. Navy for 15 years as Washington correspondent for the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He is now a Washington-based freelance reporter.

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First Lt. Stephen Boada is shown near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in 2005. Boada was awarded the Silver Star medal after he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire by hurling grenades into a cave to silence snipers who had ambushed his unit on May 8, 2005. (Photo courtesy of Stephen J. Boada)


Stephen J. Boada

U.S. Marine Corps / Silver Star

Born Dec. 19, 1978, in Bristol, Conn.

Wife, Jennifer.

An 11-year Marine veteran, he served one tour with 1st Battalion, 4th Marines in Iraq and one with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines in Afghanistan.

Fought off enemy gunmen in rugged terrain, allowing his squad to remove two Marines who had been killed in battle.

Boada is now a captain and serves as an instructor at The Basic School at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia.

“I can't put my finger on it, but it was just something I always wanted to do.”

Afghanistan / Alishang Valley

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