Christopher Thomas Upp
U.S. Army / Silver Star
Wounded and with his platoon leader dead, he and his men overcame a Taliban ambush
The locals had not shown up for work at Vehicle Patrol Base Seray on the morning of July 31, 2007, and Staff Sgt. Christopher Upp was concerned. Combined with intelligence reports of an imminent Taliban attack, the villagers’ absence left him uneasy.
The day had been too quiet in the Chowkay Valley, about 12 kilometers from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. There had not been the usual morning or afternoon attack. Now the sun was setting and the men of the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Infantry Regiment were hunkering down for a very long night.
Then suddenly — and violently — a 107mm rocket interrupted the banter of a card game.
“Immediately after that we heard machine-gun fire going off all around us,” Upp recalled.
He first thought of the 120mm mortar, about 75 yards away. Upp knew that if he could get his five men into the mortar pit, they stood a good chance of repelling the enemy.
“It was the main weapon that the Taliban were scared of . . . the only thing that can get them when they hide behind rocks,” Upp said.
Tracer fire came from all directions as the soldiers dashed for the mortar pit. A rocket-propelled grenade exploded on higher ground, sending a wave of flesh-tearing shrapnel over their heads. As Upp and his soldiers dived into the pit, enemy machine gunners peppered the protective sandbags and rock wall with fire.
Upp remembered looking for 1st Lt. Benjamin Hall. Usually, the platoon leader was in the pit with him, barking orders on where to fire. But Hall never appeared.
“I told the men to lay low, don’t show your faces and hand me rounds,” Upp said.
He began firing mortars as fast as the tube could be loaded.
Several minutes into the firefight, he heard the unmistakable “thump” of a 107mm rocket being launched. Upp yelled for his men to take cover but failed to take his own advice.
The concussion knocked him to the ground. As he fell, a dollar bill-sized piece of shrapnel sliced his right arm, leaving a wide, bloody gash. The blast also had knocked him out, but another soldier shook him awake.
Looking around, Upp realized his bleeding arm was the least of his unit’s problems: The support legs and aiming device for the 120mm mortar were disabled. Now the only way to fire the weapon was to hoist the mortar tube onto his shoulders and “point and fire.”
That’s what he did, launching more than 75 rounds at the enemy.
“People in the pit were yelling, ‘We’re taking fire from here, here, here, here.’ We were probably taking fire from four or five different locations, with 25 to 30 enemy fighters firing,” Upp said, noting that more than 12 RPGs and more than six 107mm rockets were fired in their direction.
No others in the mortar pit with Upp were injured during the evening battle. But after the fighting ended, Hall was found nearby. He apparently had been mortally wounded during the first rocket attack.
“He wasn’t more than 25 feet from us the whole time, behind a rock,” says Upp.
He credits his unit’s survival to everyone “doing their jobs and not cowering away. …
“What I did was probably stupid in a lot of people’s eyes. I don’t know why I did it; it just happened that way.”
Upp doesn’t like being labeled a hero. Hall is the true hero, he says.
“He was a very good officer. I don’t want this to be just about me. I want it to be about everybody.”
S.L. Alligood covered the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division as an embedded reporter in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is an assistant professor of journalism at Middle Tennessee State University.
Christopher Thomas Upp
U.S. Army / Silver Star
Born May 17, 1981, in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. His family moved to Sterling, Colo., when he was 12.
He and wife Melissa are expecting a baby girl, their first child, in December. Melissa is also on active duty with her military police platoon.Joined the Army in May 2000. Was deployed in May 2007 with the 101st Airborne Division, 2nd Battalion of the 187th Infantry Regiment and in August 2008 with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Infantry Regiment.
WHAT HE DID
His right arm gashed by shrapnel, he hoisted a partly disabled mortar tube and fired dozens of 120mm rounds to repel a Taliban attack on his unit's patrol base.
WHERE HE IS NOW
Stationed at U.S. Army Africa headquarters, Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy.
WHY HE JOINED THE ARMY
“It kind of came out of the blue. Upon graduating from high school I thought I was going to get a baseball scholarship, and it fell through at the last minute. … When it fell through I had no plan. I fell back on an uncle who had been in the military, and here I am. I liked it and stayed with it.”
Afghanistan / Chowkay Valley