'We don't run': Retired Special Forces soldier receives Distinguished Service Cross
Jul. 11–When a fellow Special Forces soldier was pinned down by enemy forces in Afghanistan, Larry Hawks had a quick response.
“All right, brother, I’m coming,” he said.
Hawks, a retired master sergeant, grabbed a machine gun and 600 rounds of extra ammunition. He charged through enemy fire toward higher ground so he could see the pinned down soldier and the insurgents who were firing at him. From there, Hawks said he “dropped the hammer” on the enemy forces, allowing the other soldier to get out of the ditch, where he was trapped.
Hawks, 48, received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during the battle on July 24-25, 2005. Lt. Gen. Fran Beaudette, commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, presented the medal to Hawks on June 21 during a ceremony at Fort Bragg’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.
The Distinguished Service Cross is the Army’s second highest award for valor.
The soldier who was pinned down, Command Sgt. Maj. Bruce Holmes, talked about the battle and Hawks’ actions during the ceremony. Hawks provided a written copy of Holmes’ remarks and other details of the events Tuesday.
Hawks, Holmes and other soldiers from Fort Bragg’s 3rd Special Forces Group were in the Helmond Valley of Afghanistan.
“That’s where all the bad guys were,” Hawks said.
The Special Forces troops had found out that a group of foreign fighters had taken over a village. The soldiers left their base, known as Fire Base Tycz, about 3 a.m. on a mission to cordon off the village and clear out the insurgents.
Hawks, Holmes and two other soldiers were each in an all-terrain vehicle as they set up barriers to keep the enemy from escaping from the village. Just before dawn, they saw some insurgents headed for a cave.
The Special Forces soldiers started to chase the enemy troops, but ran into an ambush as they went through a ravine known as a “wadi,” which Hawks said was about five feet deep and about 30 feet wide.
Hawks said the town erupted in gunfire as about 80 insurgents started shooting.
“That got our attention,” he said.
Hawks, then a senior engineer sergeant, was in the first of two four-wheeled vehicles. When enemy forces started firing, they sped up and made it through the wadi. But instead of leaving, they turned around.
“They thought we were leaving,” he said. “They must not have got the memo — we don’t run.”
Holmes, who was a senior medic for the team, was in the third vehicle, which had six wheels. He got bogged down in the ravine and was taking heavy fire. The fourth vehicle, which also had six wheels, managed to turn off just before he got into the wadi.
Holmes got out of his vehicle and tried to find cover. He radioed Hawks to let him know the situation.
Hawks told Holmes he was on his way. He asked the soldier with him, “Going or staying?” When the other soldier suggested taking cover, Hawks grabbed the machine gun and made it to higher ground despite heavy enemy fire.
“I knew I had to get to where I could see what was going on,” he said.
Holmes said five enemy troops were shooting at him while others were moving to get a better shot at him.
“The battle tide shifted instantly when Larry opened fire on the ambush line,” Holmes said.
Hawks told Holmes to get ready to move and started firing at the foreign fighters.
“Chaos ensued for those guys,” he said.
Holmes said the enemy troops were surprised and disoriented.
“Larry, I can’t thank you enough for what you did that day,” Holmes told Hawks during the ceremony.
After Holmes made it to Hawks’ position, they continued to take enemy fire. Insurgents in the town, on a ridgeline and in caves, were shooting at them with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. They were pinned down for about 10 hours with temperatures nearing 115 degrees.
Hawks contacted the other Special Forces troops, who brought in Humvees with mounted guns. When he told them to start firing at the town, they asked about friendly forces.
“There’s no friendlies in town,” he said he told them.
At one point, Hawks said a member of the Afghan army who was fighting with the Special Forces soldiers was shot. A short while later he was shot again and killed.
Hawks realized that a sniper was taking the shots. After he saw the sniper’s muzzle flash in a tree, he used his machine gun to take out the sniper.
Later, Hawks directed Apache attack helicopters as they fired on the town and nearby caves. Then more Special Forces soldiers, a “quick reaction force” of infantry soldiers and 105 mm howitzers arrived.
The soldiers started going building by building to clear the town. Hawks saw enemy troops coming out of buildings that had been cleared.
The soldiers later discovered that the insurgents were moving from building to building using an aquifer that formed tunnels under the village. Hawks used demolition charges to destroy the aquifer.
“After that, we were able to clear the town pretty quick,” he said.
The battle lasted about 14 hours.
Hawks initially received the Silver Star medal for his actions. That award was upgraded after the military decided to review medals awarded for actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Hawks said he was more concerned about having the respect of his peers than an award. He said there wasn’t time to think about fear during the battle.
“You’re frustrated, mad and excited all at the same time,” he said. “You’re not thinking about what you’re doing at the time. If your number’s up, your number’s up, but you can’t quit. It’s not an option.”
Hawks, who joined the Army in 1988 and is from Wingfield, Kentucky, served in the first Persian Gulf War with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks changed the world situation.
“They brought it to us,” he said. “At that point, if we have to go over there 100 times, that’s what you’ve got to do to keep our kids from having to go over there.”
Hawks said that despite what some people might think, there are bad people in the world.
“You can turn the other cheek,” he said, “but they’ll just cut your head off.”
Staff writer Steve DeVane can be reached at email@example.com or 910-486-3572. ___
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