Sgt. Craig Warfle already had the respect of his peers in the Army’s Ranger Regiment and the gratitude of military leaders at the highest levels for the bravery he showed three years ago when he held back enemy fighters in Afghanistan to protect a fatally wounded soldier.
On Friday, the Lacey resident got a treat in the nation’s capital when the USO honored him once more for his actions in combat when it feted him as its soldier of the year. It’s an honor the military support organization gives when it recognizes a representative from each branch of the Armed Forces at its annual gala.
“It’s definitely a humbling experience,” said the 23-year-old Warfle. “I’m really honored to be a part of it.”
Warfle played a key role in an August 2010 battle in Afghanistan’s Logar province when his team from the Georgia-based 1st Battalion, 75th Regiment attacked a column of Taliban fighters.
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The fighters shot Warfle in the right arm that night, but he didn’t treat himself with a tourniquet until his more seriously wounded partner had been evacuated from the battlefield.
In the meantime, Warfle kept shooting at enemy fighters for 20 minutes while his platoon evacuated the wounded soldier and regrouped to destroy the Taliban contingent.
Last year, Warfle received the nation’s second-highest military honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, for the “extreme gallantry” he showed in the shootout.
“By repeatedly risking his life for others, Spc. Warfle’s purposeful gallant actions, selfless dedication to the safety of his teammates and demonstrated extraordinary heroism were distinctive and exemplary,” his commendation reads, reflecting his rank at the time he received the honor.
Warfle was part of a six-man team dropped by helicopter into a hot landing zone. They came under fire immediately from shooters in several positions. Warfle crawled 15 meters toward the gunshots, and then suppressed the enemy fighters with fire from his own rifle.
That was just the beginning of the attack.
He and Sgt. Martin Lugo moved under fire and without cover to flank the Taliban fighters when it became clear a second Ranger team was pinned down. Both were shot as they approached two dug-in enemy fighters.
Warfle “purposefully positioned himself in the line of enemy fire and immediately suppressed the enemy in order to defend (the sergeant) and provide covering fire for the platoon medic,” Warfle’s Distinguished Service Cross commendation reads.
The Ranger’s gunfire helped shift the momentum in the attack, enabling the team to evacuate the wounded sergeant and then kill the Taliban fighters by calling in ordnance on the enemy positions. Lugo died from his wounds.
Warfle left the Georgia-based Ranger battalion earlier this year when he re-enlisted to serve in the Lewis-McChord outfit. He has deployed to Afghanistan four times since he joined the Army five years ago.
Warfle grew up in Ohio and said he wanted to be a Ranger because “it’s a job that needed to be done and I felt I was capable to do it.”
“If it wasn’t me to do the job, then who would do it?” he said.
He said he was touched to receive the USO honor because he appreciates the services the group provides to deployed soldiers. He remembered his first encounter with the USO as he got himself turned around in the Atlanta airport on his way to Army basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia. A USO volunteer steered him in the right direction.
“They’ve been great my entire career,” he said.
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 adam.ashton@ thenewstribune.com