Remembering Ron Shurer

“We tried to be as inconspicuous as possible out there…There was just a constant reminder that we were not in a safe position. We needed to try and stabilize everybody as quickly as possible and then get them out of there.” – Staff Sergeant Ron Shurer 

Staff Sergeant Ron Shurer was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2018 for his actions as an Army Special Forces combat medic during the Battle of Shok Valley in Afghanistan in April of 2008.  Motivated to serve in the aftermath of 9/11, Shurer left the Washington State University graduate program he was enrolled in and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2002.  Seeking to be with the best, Shurer trained to become a Special Forces medic and was assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group in 2006.

Serving as the medical sergeant with Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 3336, Shurer deployed with this unit and roughly 100 Afghan commandos to the Shok Valley on April 6, 2008.  The plan was to locate, capture, or kill several high-ranking members of the Hezeb Islami al Gulbadin (HIG) militia operating in the region.  Shortly after deployment, the unit was ambushed and many of the team members were severely wounded in the rugged terrain.  As the unit’s only combat medic, Shurer braved enemy fire and falling rocks to reach and treat many of his severely wounded comrades – an action that would subsequently lead to his being awarded the nation’s highest military honor.

Shurer separated from the Army in 2009 and worked for the U.S. Secret Service in both Phoenix and Washington D.C.  Diagnosed with lung cancer, Ron Shurer died from the disease on May 14, 2020.  He is survived by his wife and two sons.

 



STAFF SERGEANT RON SHURER AND THE BATTLE OF SHOK VALLEY

On April 6, 2008, fifteen U.S. Army Green Berets from Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 3336 and around 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 (HIG), an Afghani militia that had controlled the valley for decades.  Staff Sergeant Ron Shurer was assigned as the unit’s combat medic.  The original plan for a surprise attack on the fortress was scrapped when a suitable landing zone could not be found. Instead, the coalition forces were transported to the valley floor by CH-47 Chinook helicopters and forced to climb up the mountainside 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.

Ron Shurer with Afghan Commando

Ron Shurer with an Afghan commando (U.S. Army)

After treating several wounded soldiers and commandos down at the base of the mountain, the calls for “Ron, Ron, Ron” echoed from above.  The lead assault force, which had moved up onto a higher mountain ledge, had begun to take heavy fire and several casualties.  Grabbing his medical kit and braving a storm of bullets, Shurer made his way up to the mountain ledge to treat four wounded U.S. soldiers and 10 Afghan commandos.  After determining that his friend and Afghani interpreter “CK”, Edris Khan, had indeed been killed, Shurer moved forward to other wounded soldiers.  At one point, Shurer became the direct target of several enemy snipers.  As he was treating one of his comrades, a bullet struck his helmet and glanced off into his arm. Shurer described the blow as like being hit in the head with a baseball bat.  Despite the growing risks, Shurer laid atop another soldier as “Danger Close” bombs from U.S. aircraft struck nearby enemy positions above, spraying rocks down onto the nearby U.S. soldiers.  At times, given the number of casualties, Shurer also directed other able soldiers to perform basic medical services for wounded men he could not be with.

With time running out for several of the most severely wounded. Shurer worked with other members of the team, including Sergeant Matthew Williams who would also be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions this day, to evacuate three non-ambulatory soldiers down a 60-foot cliff.  This new evacuation route was far more dangerous than the path used for the ascent, but it did have the advantage of being less vulnerable to enemy fire – the “least worst option”.  Looking for some safe method to lower the wounded down the cliff and to keep the patients stabilized, a resourceful Shurer used nylon webbing that he wrapped around the soldiers’ shoulders to help with the descent. After reaching the landing zone, the wounded and remaining teammates were evacuated out of the valley by helicopter.

Throughout the six and a half-hour battle, Shurer had remained cool and focused, despite the great dangers. Thanks in large part to Shurer’s actions, all of the severely wounded U.S. soldiers would survive. As he would later say, “What kept me grounded and focused was the team. Everybody keeps each other honest, keeps each other humble. You can’t pretend when you’re living with people in such close quarters for long periods of time…. everybody’s just working for that common goal to accomplish the mission and get back home, get back to their families.”


U.S. Army Video of SSGT Ron Shurer

 

“Growing up, the Medal of Honor was just so much bigger than life. To even consider that my name would be put in with a group — it just doesn’t make sense to me…There are so many amazing stories out there, from guys doing amazing things. I just took care of my guys, got as many of them home as I could.” – Staff Sergeant Ron Shurer


MEDAL OF HONOR CITATION FOR STAFF SERGEANT RON SHURER

Staff Sergeant Ronald J. Shurer, II. (U.S. Army photo by Monica King)

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, he braved enemy fire to move to an injured soldier and treat his wounds.  Having stabilized the soldier, he 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, he 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, he 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, he 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, he 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 remove 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.

Ron Shurer and President TrumpPresident Donald Trump placing the Medal of Honor around the neck of Staff Sergeant Ron Shurer in a White House ceremony on October 1, 2018 (Official White House Photograph)

 


Read about Ron Shurer and the Battle of Shok Valley

No Way Out: A Story of Valor in the Mountains of Afghanistan by Mitch Weiss and Kevin Maurer