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William C. Tomlin III

U.S. Army / Silver Star

He led his platoon to victory over an enemy more than six times its size, with no US deaths

Sgt. 1st Class William Tomlin III was exhausted and severely dehydrated. Up against an enemy force of 300, the 45 soldiers of his scout platoon had been battling for nearly six hours in temperatures reaching almost 120 degrees near the village of Chakak, Afghanistan.

And now the enemy forces had closed within 15 meters of his position.

Tomlin’s platoon was part of Operation Furious Pursuit, in which 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division and had been called upon to clear Taliban forces in Helmand province. Two British forward operating bases had come under siege, and it was the battalion’s job to provide relief and restore security to the area.

Tomlin’s unit already had been periodically engaged in combat for three days. On the morning of April 9, 2007, it was assigned a reconnaissance mission in Chakak.

Platoon leader Tomlin quickly ordered his men to set up a secure perimeter upon their arrival.

“We had started going around to the houses closest to us to clear them, and we noticed that there wasn’t anybody inside,” Tomlin recalled. “That’s pretty common if you are about to be engaged.

“So I took a sniper team and I set them up so they could start getting their eyes away from the main element. Pretty much as soon as they got into position, the main element started receiving machine-gun and RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) fire.”

The ambush, by a force six times the platoon’s size, came hard and forced him to withdraw the snipers. Meanwhile, enemy fighters moved up a nearby alley directly in front of his position. Recognizing the danger, Tomlin went into action.

“I realized just how close they were, and at 15 meters, it was anybody’s game,” he said, pointing out that the Americans’ advantage in training and equipment was largely negated in close battle.

“I knew we had to get out of that situation. We were able to push them back down the alley with hand grenades and small-arms fire, and then we chased them down the hill into the village.”

In the midst of leading the counterattack, Tomlin radioed for air support and directed reinforcements to protect his flank. Turning the tide of the battle, Tomlin’s men pressed forward, driving the enemy fighters from the village until the platoon began to run low on ammunition, forcing it to break contact.

“What kept me going was the constant threat,” said Tomlin, who received his Silver Star in March 2008 from President Bush. “I pretty much knew that we had to stay active.” Otherwise, his small force would be quickly overrun.

In the end, his platoon killed nearly 50 fighters and two Taliban leaders. No Americans died in the battle.

“I would say we were pretty lucky,” he said, “and I have always said that I would rather be lucky than good.”

Tim Holbert is program director of the American Veterans Center in Arlington, Va.

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President Bush presents the Silver Star medal to Sgt. 1st Class William Tomlin III. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army)

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  • Tomlin-mug

William C. Tomlin III

U.S. Army / Silver Star

Born Nov. 23, 1976, in New Britain, Conn. Now lives in West Point, N.Y.

Joined the Army on May 25, 1998, and was assigned to Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team.

Has served four tours of duty overseas, two each in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Led a 45-soldier scout platoon that drove off a Taliban force nearly six times larger.

Works for the U.S. Corps of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

“I first came on active duty in 1998. I had been simultaneously going to college and serving in the National Guard to help pay for college. When I was getting ready to graduate, I didn't really feel like I was ready to join corporate America yet, so I decided to join the active-duty Army. I told myself it would just be for three years, just to go for a little bit of fun and adventure, and it turned out that I really liked it, so I decided to stick around for a while.”

Afghanistan / Sangin

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