U.S. Army / Silver Star
Outnumbered by the Taliban,
he coordinated the recovery
of seven crash victims' bodies
Sgt. 1st Class Ronald Strickland could just see the outline of the CH-47 Chinook as it dropped off paratroopers on the outskirts of a village in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
Then he saw a streak, a flash and a fireball. The massive cargo helicopter had been shot down.
Strickland quickly pulled together his small team of seven paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
“We’ve got to go,” he told them that day in May 2007. “Let’s go right now.”
Racing to the crash site, they navigated through a spider web of mud-walled compounds that eventually came to a dead end. Strickland ordered his men out of their trucks, to continue on foot. Following a mud wall, they ended up in a ditch, where they could see the helicopter on fire nearby.
Half was in a nearby compound, the rest outside the wall.
Strickland didn’t know if anyone had survived but didn’t want the Taliban to get there first. (He later learned that more than 50 insurgents were swarming the area.) Strickland sent most of his men into the compound to clear it of Taliban and search for survivors. He and a medic went to the other wreckage.
Ammunition and flares cooked off from the heat. Inside the wreckage site, a thick haze of dust and smoke made it almost impossible to see. Strickland searched through the debris for survivors but found none, only seven dead bodies. The paratroopers had gotten out before the Taliban had struck.
Strickland knew he didn’t have enough men to defend the site so he pulled back to a nearby intersection of two ditches, where he radioed for reinforcements.
Suddenly, two Taliban crawled out of a nearby ditch and opened fire. One had a machine gun, and Strickland could see the rounds going around a tree between them.
“I thought they were going through me,” he said. Falling backward, he started to fire back with his rifle, killing the machine gunner.
The firefight lasted more than 25 minutes. Several times Strickland was sure he would be shot or die: “I’ve been in 25 or 30 firefights,” he said. “Most times you are just reacting. You don’t have time to think about stuff like that. It just lasted so long.”
When reinforcements finally reached the scene, Strickland fought his way back to the trucks to link up and establish a security perimeter around the crash site.
Then he crawled back into the wreckage and recovered all the bodies.
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 July 2, 1973 in Scotland County, N.C.
Wife Patricia; three daughters.
Joined the Army on Aug. 1, 1991. Assigned to 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Has served two tours of duty in Iraq and two in Afghanistan.
WHAT HE DID
Led an undermanned team to secure a helicopter crash site, fending off attackers and recovering the bodies of crash victims.
WHERE HE IS NOW
Still a member of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment based at Fort Bragg, N.C.
WHY HE JOINED THE ARMY
“It is just something I've always wanted to do.”
Afghanistan / Helmand Province - South