Marine awarded for actions during OEF
Staff Sgt. Rodrigo B. Arias-Hernandez recently received the Bronze Star Award with Combat V for his actions during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan Aug. 19-20, 2009.
Arias-Hernandez, a battery gunnery sergeant for Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, was a company advisor with Embedded Training Team 2-8, Regional Corps Advisory Command-Central 3-7, 201st Corps, Afghan National Army, at the time.
On Aug. 19, 2009, the eve of the second Afghan national election, the 34-year-old, another team member and an Army National Guard soldier defended Vehicle Patrol Base Pashad.
The ANA commander had directed all but six of the patrol base’s personnel to occupy mountain overwatch positions that morning to block enemy infiltration routes during the election.
At about 10 p.m., Operational Detachment Alpha Team 2213 arrived at the compound with intelligence on an imminent large-scale attack by an enemy force of about 200 Taliban and foreign fighters.
AriasHernandez assessed the base’s vulnerabilities and gave a report to the team’s leader, after which the team was made available to AriasHernandez.
“The detachment that I had was from the Special Forces, and the commander came up to me and asked me ‘Where do you need me,’” he said. “I told him I needed guys here, here and here and start plugging in the grids in case we (were) overrun, but we didn’t (get overrun).”
At 11:05 p.m., the enemy launched an attack with accurate mortar fire followed by an onslaught of rocket-propelled grenade rounds, small arms and medium machine gun fire.
One of the ETT members responded with a Browning M2 .50 caliber machine gun, Arias-Hernandez’s team’s only crew-served weapon. He tried to assist by spotting enemy positions using night vision goggles, but saw only a barrage of muzzle flashes from enemy weapons.
He quickly sent out a distress signal to a joint-Quick Response Force, composed of an Army platoon, ETT and ANA personnel.
Using the cover of darkness, enemy fighters had approached unnoticed and dispersed in all directions surrounding the valley, the neighboring village, the school house and the compound, with some as close as 300 meters, making fire missions impossible.
“When the going was tough he probably thought that ‘You know what, I might not come out of this,’ but he reacted instinctively; he did the right thing,” said Maj. Gen. James B. Laster, 3rd MarDiv. commanding general, of AriasHernandez.
The ANA platoon at the compound was considered a strong fighting force because of its training and combat experience.
Arias-Herenandez coordinated with the ANA platoon lieutenant and helped refocus the ANA positions to their respective fields of fire and the enemy’s potential avenues of approach.
Using his personal M203 grenade launcher, he fired illumination rounds to backlight enemy positions for ANA soldiers.
After two hours of fierce fighting, enemy forces collected their dead and wounded and departed into the mountains.
A post-attack analysis estimated the enemy force at 80 to 100 fighters intended to overrun the compound to ensure the Taliban controlled Pashad village before the next day’s election.
The citiation attributes all friendly forces’ survival to Arias-Hernandez’s leadership, courage and military skill.
“The training that I received paid off,” said Arias-Hernandez. “Some of these guys were depending on me and my actions, so failure was not on my mind.”
Arias-Hernandez volunteered to remain at the patrol base through election day, sustaining six more rocket attacks that he quickly neutralized by directing 105mm mortar fire on enemy mountain positions.
According to the citation, his actions contributed to a 95 percent turnout rate at the polling centers in the Khas Kunar district the following day, leaving the enemy’s plan to disrupt the national election in the region a failure.
Article by Cpl. Kentavist P. Brackin, Marine Corps Bases Japan