U.S. Army / Silver Star
Wounded in an ambush, he ignored pain and aided injured soldiers, saving their lives
Spc. Aaron Davis had seen combat before during his 14-month tour, but nothing remotely like this. What started out as pop shots, well before daybreak, quickly grew into one of the deadliest and most controversial engagements of the war in Afghanistan.
And he would be in the heart of it.
In the days leading to the June 13, 2008, battle, Davis’ 48-man platoon from the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team had begun construction of a patrol base near the village of Wanat in Konar province.
The region had become a hotbed of Taliban activity, a major supply line for insurgent fighters. Davis’ platoon was responsible for monitoring and disrupting their operations.
The unfinished patrol base consisted mainly of an area lightly surrounded by sandbags and barbed wire, and the American and a few dozen Afghan troops had little warning of the ambush.
“We knew it could happen,” he said. “You expect the worst all the time; you need to be ready for anything to happen. But as far as intelligence goes, we weren’t (alerted).”
Suddenly, 200 Taliban surrounded the base, determined to run straight through them.
Davis, an anti-armor gunner, was in the TOW (tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided) truck. It was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and caught fire.
With the truck destroyed, Davis was weaponless, and the platoon began taking serious casualties. Determined to help the men he called his brothers, Davis scrambled to find a weapon and began to return fire.
As the insurgents advanced, Davis was hit in the right leg with shrapnel from an exploding RPG. Ignoring the intense pain, he refused to leave the battlefield so he could help three severely injured soldiers until a medical evacuation team arrived. It saved their lives.
A humble Davis rejects any idea that his actions were heroic: “Well, I wasn’t alone. We just moved as a team and got them out of there as soon as we could.”
Soon, another RPG detonated nearby, its shrapnel cutting into Davis’ left arm and right eye. Blinded by his own blood, Davis recalls praying before he felt the hand of a Marine, who pulled him to safety.
Twenty-six others in his platoon were wounded, and nine, including their leader, 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom, were killed. The U.S. military estimated that 21 to 50 Taliban fighters were killed in the Battle of Wanat.
Today, Davis is back in the United States, recovering in his native Texas.
The battle also triggered self-examinations within the U.S. military to determine whether the unit was properly equipped and supported in the remote valley. It has led to three investigations, including one ordered in September by Gen. David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command.
Tim Holbert is program director of the American Veterans Center in Arlington, Va.
U.S. Army / Silver Star
Born in 1987 in Kilgore, Texas.
Joined the Army on Jan. 4, 2006, and deployed to Afghanistan on May 23, 2007, as an anti-armor gunner with 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.
WHAT HE DID
Wounded by shrapnel in his right leg, he refused to leave a remote Afghanistan battlefield, staying to provide aid to three severely injured comrades. Shrapnel from a later explosion injured him in the left arm and right eye.
WHERE HE IS NOW
A specialist with the Warrior Transition Battalion at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he is recovering from his injuries.
WHY HE JOINED THE ARMY
“I was a freshman in high school on 9/11. It hurt me to see people come here and do what they did, so afterwards I wanted to do my part."
Afghanistan / Wanat