UNDER FIRE – CLEAR THAT TOWN!
On 7 December, 2007, 2nd Platoon, Company A., 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment landed by helicopter just outside Musa Qal’eh and marched all night to occupy a large hill overlooking the town. At dawn on 8 December, the unit started receiving small-arms and heavy machine gun fire from a small village at the base of the hill, which was isolated from the rest of Musa Qal’eh by a dry riverbed.
Sgt. 1st Class James Brasher and 1st Lt. Joseph McGovern assessed the situation and decided that the village, a Taliban stronghold, which was already slated to be taken by 2nd Platoon, needed to be cleared immediately. After flanking around the hill to enter the village, the platoon began systematically clearing structures to establish a foothold.
Brasher was with the lead squad when a Taliban fighter attempted to ambush them as they prepared to enter a compound. Brasher reacted quickly and killed the gunman before he could harm the paratroopers. As the squad advanced to the next compound, they came under accurate small arms fire. Brasher threw fragmentation grenades toward the enemy position, suppressing the attack and allowing his paratroopers to maneuver to safety.
KILLING TWO GUNMEN
When McGovern’s element came under heavy attack from machine- gun fire and shoulder-fired anti-tank rockets, Brasher joined them and once again exposed himself to enemy fire to pinpoint the enemy position.
“We were pinned down, more or less, facing very intense, accurate fire,” McGovern said. “It wasn’t a great position. We made a decision; we were going to maneuver.”
Brasher led a squad to clear a compound from which they could better return fire. As he directed his paratroopers, he spotted a Taliban fighter with a machine gun and opened fire.
Brasher led the squad over a mud wall to pursue the fleeing insurgent. Brasher killed two more gunmen as the squad rounded a corner. The squad ran into a larger force and killed more fighters as they closed with the enemy.
It was hard to keep track of everything Brasher did in the confusion of the firefight, said Sgt. David Goth, who fought alongside Brasher in Musa Qal’eh.
KNOCKED OUT OF THE FIGHT
Sgt. Levi Kull, an M249 squad automatic weapon (SAW) gunner with 2nd Plt., remembers Brasher exposing himself to the enemy to lay down suppressive fire with a shotgun so that his squad could safely cross a danger area. “It was just everything that day,” Goth said.
McGovern said at that point in the battle the enemy was hard pressed by the aggressiveness of Brasher’s attack. The Taliban forces then consolidated at a highly defensible compound with thick walls. Brasher spotted enemy positions inside the compound and began engaging them when an enemy bullet tore into his forearm and bicep. McGovern and 2nd Platoon carried on the attack, finally destroying the compound with close air support.
COURAGE, INITIATIVE, AND COOLNESS
Although Brasher was taken out of the fight, his paratroopers insist that if it were not for his aggressive leadership, courage, initiative and coolness under fire, the mission would not have been such a success, with no loss of American lives. “If it was anyone else other than [Brasher], I don’t know how it would have worked out,” Kull said.
CLEARING AN INSURGENT STRONGHOLD
Brasher was awarded the Silver Star on 9 October, 2008, for his gallantry in action, with marked distinction, by Maj. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division during a ceremony at the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum.
He was recognized for his fearless leadership during the mission, having been wounded after repeatedly placing himself in front of enemy fire so that he could lead and protect his paratroopers.
For Brasher, the real heroes are his Soldiers, he said.
EXPOSING HIMSELF TO PROTECT HIS MEN
“I can’t adequately describe the feeling of pride that I felt when I looked back at them and said ‘Follow me,’ and they came almost eagerly through this hurricane of enemy fire,” Brasher said.
However extraordinary his actions may have been, Brasher’s paratroopers considered him a non-commissioned officer who routinely led from the front. “He was always out front exposing himself, making sure it was safe before he put his men in any danger,” said McGovern, Brasher’s platoon leader during the battle. “He would rather get hit than any of his other guys.”