Brigade's heroes honored with Silver Star for service

Staff Sgt. Shawn McGuire and other soldiers from his engineer platoon were in the midst of recovering a Stryker armored vehicle damaged by an improvised explosive device from a narrow alley in Baqouba, Iraq, on March 16 when all hell broke loose.

Two rocket-propelled grenades sliced through the air and exploded, wounding five soldiers. Gunfire erupted every which way.

The platoon sergeant went down from his injuries. Despite being wounded himself, shot twice, and with shrapnel embedded in his neck and right soldier, McGuire, 33, took control.

"I was just trying to get people out of there," he said.

The heroism earned him the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest decoration for combat valor.

McGuire was one of seven soldiers assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) who earned the award after returning from the Iraq War. One soldier received the honor on behalf of Sgt. Jason Harkins, who was killed weeks after his heroic action.

More awards for the brigade are possible.

A specialist assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment has been nominated for the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest award for combat valor, said Major Jack Vantress, operations officer. The nomination is awaiting final approval. The cross has been awarded six times since the U.S.-led coalition invaded Afghanistan, according to the Home of Heroes' Web site.

If approved, the award will be presented during the brigade's change-of-command ceremony Nov. 21. Along with that, approval is pending for up to six more Silver Stars to soldiers assigned to the brigade.

Of the Silver Stars awarded Thursday, all the soldiers but McGuire were assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment. McGuire is assigned to the 18th Engineer Company.

Every soldier was decorated for actions in Baquoba between March and June.

The infantry battalion had been sent to Baqouba, in the Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, to reclaim the city from al-Qaida, said Col. Stephen Townsend, the brigade's commander. An analysis by Townsend's staff concluded the mission required a brigade, which has more than 3,600 soldiers. An infantry battalion has between 400 and 500 soldiers.

Townsend said he was told by Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commanding general of Multi-National Corps

Iraq, that a brigade couldn't be spared until U.S. and Iraqi forces could curb the violence in Baghdad.

"Just about every opportunity I would press my superiors, a brigade's got to go," Odierno said. "I just watched the Regulars (the battalion's nickname) fighting hard every day."

True to his word, Townsend said, Odierno sent the remaining elements of 3rd Brigade to rejoin the battalion after 90 days. The brigade spearheaded Operation Arrowhead Ripper and cleared the area of insurgents in two months, the brigade's final operation in Iraq.

"Al-Qaida had proclaimed Baqouba as the capital of the Islamic State of Iraq," Townsend said, "and it was unconscionable to me that we would let that stand. And it is no longer the capital."

The Silver Star recipients are:

Staff Sgt. Shawn McGuire

After the platoon sergeant was wounded, McGuire took over his responsibilities. Despite his own injuries, he organized a counterattack against the insurgents, and coordinated the evacuation of the wounded, actions the Army says saved the lives of several soldiers.

"It's not something I'd ever strive for, but it's a huge honor," McGuire said after the ceremony.

Staff Sgt. Mark Grover

Grover braved gunfire to rescue four soldiers from a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle on April 5. He also directed firefighting efforts and prepared his men for an enemy counterattack. Grover was unavailable for comment.

Staff Sgt. Jason Harkins

Harkins and several soldiers were wounded during an ambush March 17. Despite his injuries, he organized a counterattack to defeat the insurgents and evacuated three wounded soldiers to safety. Harkins was one of six soldiers killed May 6, when their Stryker vehicle was destroyed by a improvised explosive device in Baqouba.

Spc. Curtis Lundgren

When Lundgren's squad was ambushed June 9, he braved enemy fire to rescue a wounded comrade. Shot in the back, he still was able to evacuate the wounded soldier to safety, using his body as a shield to prevent further wounds. Lundgren was unavailable for comment.

Spc. Gildardo Cebreros

On March 24, after an improvised explosive device struck his Stryker vehicle and wounded seven soldiers, Cebreros evacuated casualties three separate times while under intense gunfire. Cebreros didn't return a phone message.

Sgt. Steven Peters and Staff Sgt. David Plush

Both soldiers were recognized for their heroic efforts to save a driver who was pinned under the wreckage of a Stryker vehicle that was destroyed by an improvised explosive device May 6. Plush was recognized for personally rescuing the pinned soldier while in the direct line of enemy fire. "It's a great honor," Plush said of the award. Peters entered the burning wreckage in an attempt to rescue survivors and assisted in the rescue of the driver. Added Peters: "It's something to remember the guys that were lost."

Forty-eight soldiers assigned to the brigade died during the deployment.

Reporter Mike Gilbert of The News Tribune in Tacoma contributed to this report.