Army Pins High Honors On Soldiers

February 24th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Army Pins High Honors On Soldiers

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
February 23, 2007
By Robinson Duffy, Staff Writer
The Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest honor the army gives to soldiers, is small. The prestigious award is a 2-inch by 2-inch bronze cross suspended by a red, white and blue ribbon. It doesn’t weigh much, physically, but emotionally it’s a heavy burden to bear, Pfc. Steven Sanford said.
Sanford, who is now retired from the military and who served with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry in the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team stationed at Fort Wainwright, received the Distinguished Service Cross on Thursday for heroic deeds performed during a combat operation in Mosul, Iraq, in November 2005. The award was presented to Sanford by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace.
The shiny award hung lightly from Sanford’s lapel Thursday afternoon after a brief ceremony, but it hung heavily on his heart, he said, because he didn’t feel like he deserved any accolades for what he had done.
“I did what I was supposed to do,” he said. “I did what I was trained to do, and every one else there did the same.”
On Nov. 19, 2005, Sanford was part of a group of about 15 soldiers from the Stryker brigade that attacked a three-story house in Mosul. The platoon had received reports that snipers were using the house to take shots at Iraqi police officers and American soldiers. The house turned out to be an insurgent explosives factory and the soldiers took heavy fire with some becoming trapped inside. Even though he was shot in the leg during the initial raid, Sanford went back into the building to help get the rest of the U.S. soldiers out, some of whom were seriously injured.
One Stryker soldier, Pvt. Christopher Alcozer, was shot in the neck during the evacuation. Sanford rushed to his side and began performing CPR. While he was helping Alcozer, Sanford was shot twice in the back. He returned fire, killing an insurgent, but also taking two more bullets. Even though Sanford was wounded, he continued to help Alcozer until collapsing from blood loss.
Alcozer died that day; Sanford started a long recovery.
It’s that heroism, the selfless act of helping a fallen comrade, that proves that Sanford deserves the honor he was given, Pace said. Pace told Sanford that he didn’t want to hear him say he didn’t deserve the award.
“You do. The soldiers on the wall behind you know what you have done,” he said, referring to the pictures of fallen Stryker soldiers, including Alcozer, hanging on the wall. “And everyone in this room is here to serve witness to that, that your courage in combat made a difference.”
After the ceremony, as he looked at the pictures of his fellow soldiers who never returned from Iraq, Sanford said there were plenty of other guys who deserved to be called a hero before him. He paused for a moment at the picture of Staff Sgt. Mark Wall, who was his commanding officer that day in Mosul and who later died in Iraq from an unrelated incident.
“You want to know about a hero, this guy ran into a burning building five times under heavy machine fire to evacuate wounded guys,” Sanford said, referring to Wall’s actions during the Mosul house raid. “Now that’s a hero.”
Continuing down the row of portraits, Sanford stopped at Alcozer’s picture and questioned why he didn’t receive the Distinguished Service Cross.
“He died that day,” Sanford said. “That’s for keeps.”
And there are other men and women, Sanford said, who didn’t lose their lives in Iraq but still deserve to be called heroes because of all they sacrificed. The small award pinned to his suit coat made him think of them as well, he said.
“It’s not just these guys on the wall who end up hurting. There’s a lot more people than this who have had bad things happen,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys worse off than me. There’s a lot of guys who don’t have awards ceremonies.”
The wounded soldiers who served in Iraq, like Sanford, receive help and support from agencies like the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Sanford said, but they don’t always get the recognition they deserve.
“Everyone did a hell of a job,” he said. “This award is for them, too.”
The Distinguished Service Cross is second only to the Medal of Honor in terms of medals awarded to soldiers for gallantry during combat. Only about 11,400 soldiers have receive the Distinguished Service Cross since the award was established by Congress in 1918.
During Thursday’s ceremony, two other Fort Wainwright soldiers were presented awards for their part in the same 2005 Mosul operation. Staff Sgt. Michael Barrera and Pfc. Joshua Joseph were awarded Silver Stars.
Pace, who has been the senior ranking member of the Armed Forces since September 2005, said this was the first time he had ever presented a Distinguished Service Cross, and the first time he had presented two Silver Star Awards in the same ceremony. It was a great opportunity, he said, to personally thank a few of the soldiers who sacrificed in Iraq.
“I came a long way to say two very simple words, but they were heartfelt, ‘thank you,’” Pace said. “This is just an emotional moment, getting to say thank you.”

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