U.S. Army / Bronze Star With Valor
'Fight your way out of here,
or fight and die, but you’re fighting no matter what.’
Marc Silvestri squeezed behind a rock and watched a bullet smack the dirt where his foot had just been. Rounds zipped overhead. His patrol, spread out halfway up a mountain in Afghanistan on Aug. 24, 2008, was under fire from three sides.
“They had the high ground,” Silvestri says. “They started coming at us from the right of us, above us and the left of us.”
He looked back down the mountainside and saw his platoon leader, 1st. Lt. Corey Faison, pinned down in the open 75 yards away and crawling for cover as two insurgents fired on him from a ridge.
Silvestri, then 30 and a private first class on his first combat patrol, thought of his daughter, Sienna, at home in Boston, and he made his decision: I’m not dying here today.
He scrambled back down the rocky trail, raised his machine gun and fired a long burst, killing both insurgents. Silvestri pulled Faison behind a rock, then stood in front of him, raking the mountainside with suppressive fire, while the lieutenant radioed for air support.
“They kept telling us, ‘Hold them off, hold them off, air support is on the way,’ ” Silvestri says. “But air support never came. We were on our own.”
Farther up the trail, 10 Afghan National Army soldiers and their Marine Corps adviser also were trapped. “We’re pinned down,” the Marine adviser called over the radio. “We can’t move from our location.”
The patrol couldn’t pull back to safety with the Afghans stranded up front, so someone would have to cover their withdrawal. Silvestri sucked in a breath and ran toward the gunfire.
“I didn’t do it thinking I’m going to get an award for this,” Silvestri says, in a heavy Boston accent. “I did it because my life was on the line, my battle buddies’ lives were on the line and we weren’t going to die out there; it was too early in the deployment. Fear, anger, I had every emotion running through my body at once. It was either fight your way out of here, or fight and die, but you’re fighting no matter what.”
The patrol had left Combat Outpost Lowell, deep in the mountains of Nurestan province, before dawn that morning. The 17 American and 20 Afghan soldiers planned to secure a ridgeline overlooking the Warmangal Valley, a suspected transit route for weapons and fighters. But an hour into the climb, as the sun broke over the mountains, the patrol stumbled into a kill zone, part of a coordinated attack against Lowell and two nearby observation posts.
As Silvestri climbed back up the mountain, he could see the Afghan soldiers 100 meters up the trail, crouched behind rocks and taking fire from a ledge on the left side of the draw. He moved toward the rock face, where the insurgent wouldn’t be able to see him, and made eye contact with the Marine adviser, who pointed out the enemy’s location, about 70 feet up the mountain from Silvestri.
“The guy was popping up, letting off rounds, getting down. Popping up, letting off rounds, getting down,” Silvestri says. “I stepped out and waited for him to pop back up. When he stepped out and leaned over the rock, I let a burst go and hit him in the chest. He dropped his weapon and slumped over the rock.”
Two hours after it had started, the firefight was over. Silvestri had shot 650 rounds as he moved up and down the mountainside. Despite the volume of fire coming from the enemy, no coalition troops were injured during the ambush.
Two months later, Silvestri earned a Purple Heart when a rocket-propelled grenade blew up next to him as he slept, peppering his legs with shrapnel.
And by the time his unit left Lowell in June 2009, Silvestri and his buddies in Alpha Troop had been attacked more than 400 times.
Brian Mockenhaupt is a Detroit-based writer who is an Alicia Patterson fellow reporting on the physical and psychological effects of war. He served as a noncommissioned officer with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division from 2002 to 2005, spending 18 months in Iraq.
U.S. Army / Bronze Star With Valor
Born June 13, 1978, in Revere, Mass.
Has one daughter, Sienna, 6.
Has a brother in the Army at Fort Irwin, but he has not deployed.
Entered the Army on Nov. 13, 2006, and was deployed to Afghanistan on June 26, 2008, as a private first class with 1st Platoon, Alpha Troop, 6/4 Cavalry, 1st Infantry Division.
WHAT HE DID
Killed multiple insurgents on his first combat patrol, allowing his platoon to escape an ambush.
WHERE HE IS NOW
A specialist with 1st Platoon, Alpha Troop, 6/4 Cavalry, 1st Infantry Division, at Fort Knox, Ky.
WHY HE JOINED THE ARMY
“It was something I wanted to do my whole life. We were at war. Now’s the best time to go. Why practice and never get to play?”
Afghanistan / Nurestan