The Battle of Shok Valley

Two Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor for their heroic action during more than six continuous hours of fighting during the Battle of Shok Valley. This battle, during Operation Command Wraith, took place in Afghanistan on April 6, 2008.

“We were either going to all die there together, or we were going to get out of there.” – Dillon Behr

On April 6, 2008, two Special Forces operational detachments and more than 100 Afghan commandos were poised to attack a mountain fortress in Shok Valley. Their goal was to kill or capture Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, an Afghani militia that had controlled the valley for decades.  The original plan for a surprise attack on the fortress was scrapped when a suitable landing zone could not be found. Instead friendly forces were dropped into a nearby river and forced to climb up from there. This allowed the enemy time to launch an ambush from the high ground. After advancing a short distance the commandos realized they were surrounded and fire began pouring on them from multiple directions.

Casualty reports began pouring in shortly after fighting began. The team’s interpreter was killed almost immediately after the enemy opened fire. The lead assault force, comprised of about 11 men, reached the fortified village which overlooked the valley, where they too came under heavy fire. As the enemy fire continued team began to call in close-air support. Over the course of the firefight, the Green Berets called in a total of 70 danger-close air strikes. As the firefight continued the coalition forces knew time was not on their side. Reports from the air said more insurgents were moving in their direction. Everyone on the team had sustained some sort of injury, four of them critical. With the weather turning, there was a possibility the team could be stuck in place for days, and evacuation became the priority.

Still under the fire, coalition forces began a hazardous climb back down the mountain, moving and treating the wounded as they evacuated. The team held their ground at the casualty collection point while helicopters came in to ferry out the wounded. The pilots and aircrews were fired upon throughout the extraction. Six and a half hours after the battle began, two members of the assault were killed and nine seriously wounded, and an estimated 100 enemy fighters were dead or captured.

Ronald J. Shurer II

Rank at Time of Action: Staff Sergeant

Service: US Army

Birthday: December 7, 1978

Birthplace: Fairbanks, Alaska

Unit: 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), Special Operations Task Force 33

Date of Action: April 6, 2008

Awarded Medal of Honor: October 1, 2018

Medal of Honor Citation: Staff Sergeant Ronald J. Shurer II distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on April 6, 2008, while serving as a Senior Medical Sergeant, Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 3336, Special Operations Task Force-33, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Staff Sergeant Shurer was part of an assault element inserted by helicopter into a location in Afghanistan. As the assault element moved up a near vertical mountain toward its objective, it was engaged by fierce enemy machine gun, sniper, and rocket-propelled grenade fire. The lead portion of the assault element, which included the ground commander, sustained several casualties and became pinned down on the mountainside. Staff Sergeant Shurer and the rest of the trailing portion of the assault element were likewise engaged by enemy machine gun, sniper, and rocket-propelled grenade fire. As the attack intensified, Staff Sergeant Shurer braved enemy fire to move to an injured Soldier and treat his wounds. Having stabilized the injured Soldier, Staff Sergeant Shurer then learned of the casualties among the lead element. Staff Sergeant Shurer fought his way up the mountainside, under intense enemy fire, to the lead element’s location. Upon reaching the lead element, he treated and stabilized two more Soldiers. Finishing those lifesaving efforts, Staff Sergeant Shurer noticed two additional severely wounded Soldiers under intense enemy fire. The bullet that had wounded one of these Soldiers had also impacted Staff Sergeant Shurer’s helmet. With complete disregard for his own life, Staff Sergeant Shurer again moved through enemy fire to treat and stabilize one Soldier’s severely wounded arm. Shortly thereafter, Staff Sergeant Shurer continued to brave withering enemy fire to get to the other Soldier’s location in order to treat his lower leg, which had been almost completely severed by a high-caliber sniper round. After treating the Soldier, Staff Sergeant Shurer began to evacuate the wounded; carrying and lowering them down the sheer mountainside. While moving down the mountain, Staff Sergeant Shurer used his own body to shield the wounded from enemy fire and debris caused by danger-close air strikes. Reaching the base of the mountain, Staff Sergeant Shurer set up a casualty collection point and continued to treat the wounded. With the arrival of the medical evacuation helicopter, Staff Sergeant Shurer, again under enemy fire, helped load the wounded into the helicopter. Having ensured the safety of the wounded, Staff Sergeant Shurer then regained control of his commando squad and rejoined the fight. He continued to lead his troops and emplace security elements until it was time to move to the evacuation landing zone for the helicopter. Staff Sergeant Shurer’s actions are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, Special Operations Command Central, and the United States Army.

Learn More:  Remembering Ron Shurer

Matthew O. Williams

Rank at Time of Action: Sergeant

Service: US Army

Birthday: October 3, 1981

Birthplace: Boerne, Texas

Unit: Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 3336, Special Operations Task Force-33

Date of Action: April 6, 2008

Awarded Medal of Honor: October 30, 2019

Medal of Honor Citation:  Sergeant Williams was part of an assault element inserted by helicopter into a location in Afghanistan. As the assault element was moving up a mountain toward its objective, intense enemy machine gun, sniper, and rocket-propelled grenade fire engaged it. The lead portion of the assault element, which included the ground commander, sustained several casualties and became pinned down on the sheer mountainside. Sergeant Williams, upon hearing that the lead element had sustained casualties and was in danger of being overrun, braved intense enemy fire to lead a counter-attack across a valley of ice-covered boulders and a fast-moving, ice cold, and waist-deep river. Under withering fire, Sergeant Williams and his local national commandos fought up the terraced mountainside to the besieged element. Arriving at the lead element’s position, Sergeant Williams arrayed his Afghan commandos to provide suppressive fire, which kept the insurgent fighters from overrunning the position. When the Team Sergeant was wounded, Sergeant Williams braved enemy fire once again to provide buddy-aid and to move the Team Sergeant down the sheer mountainside to the casualty collection point. Sergeant Williams then fought and climbed his way back up the mountainside to help defend the lead assault element that still had several serious casualties in need of evacuation. Sergeant Williams directed suppressive fire and exposed himself to enemy fire in order to reestablish the team’s critical satellite radio communications. He then assisted with moving the wounded down the near-vertical mountainside to the casualty collection point. Noting that the collection point was about to be overrun by enemy fighters, Sergeant Williams led the Afghan commandos in a counter-attack that lasted for several hours. When helicopters arrived to evacuate the wounded, Sergeant Williams again exposed himself to enemy fire, carrying and loading casualties onto the helicopters while continuing to direct commando firepower to suppress numerous insurgent positions. His actions enabled the patrol to evacuate wounded and dead comrades without further casualties. Sergeant Williams’ complete disregard for his own safety and his concern for the safety of his teammates ensured the survival of four critically wounded soldiers and prevented the lead element of the assault force from being overrun by the enemy. Sergeant Williams’ actions are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, Special Operations Command Central, and the United States Army.

Special Forces soldiers in Shok Valley

 

A map pinpoints the Operation Commando Wrath insertion point in Shok Valley, April 6, 2008