Project Hero – SSG Jason Fetty, Silver Star
SSG Jason Fetty was assigned to a Provincial Reconstruction Team, which, as the name denotes, isn’t a combat unit. It is a civil affairs unit with a much different role. He was a member of the Khost Provincial Reconstruction Team or PRT as they’re known, and very proud of what he’d been able to accomplish during his tour in Afghanistan.
Provisional reconstruction teams serve a vital role in Afghanistan as they do in Iraq. They complement maneuver forces in separating the enemy from the people, connecting people to the Afghan government and helping the government meet the needs of the people.
That, of course, makes the 25 PRTs’ achievements in Afghanistan — including the opening of a new emergency room for almost 1 million Khost province citizens — prime targets for terroristsd.
That’s exactly what happened when members of the Khost PRT joined officials from throughout the province to celebrate the facility’s opening Feb. 20th of last year. “We were all there to celebrate the fact that we had come together, worked together as a team to achieve a common desire, and that was to help the people,” said Navy Cmdr. John F.G. Wade, who commanded Joint Provisional Reconstruction Team Khost during the late-February incident.
But among the medical professionals who had come from all corners of Khost was a man in a doctor’s lab coat nobody else recognized.
Fetty, a PRT member who was pulling security outside the building alongside paratroopers of the newly arrived 82nd Airborne Division, watched as a sea of white lab coats came rushing out of the building and past him. After more than 10 months in Khost, Fetty had worked closely with the local medical community and recognized each doctor’s face.
He turned to ensure the 82nd Airborne Division troops didn’t fire and cleared them from the area, noting that “those guys had no way of knowing these were actual doctors. I was the only one who knew they weren’t bad guys.”
When Fetty turned back toward the building, the “bad guy” was standing directly in front of him, disguised as a doctor. Fetty had never laid eyes on him before and immediately knew something was wrong. “He was crazy in the eyes. He looked like he was on drugs, and he was acting very erratic. He definitely didn’t look right,” Fetty said.
“Every soldier who has been in combat or been downrange knows when something is not right,” he continued. “You can feel it. You can see it. It’s a general sinking feeling that things are not going to go right. You feel it in your gut.”
Fetty’s military training kicked in. He began going through his “escalation of force” commands: “Stop. Get down.” The man ignored him, and tried to grab Fetty.
Fetty wanted to fire a warning shot, but feared it would ricochet and hit the hospital or someone gathered in the crowd around it. The suspect continued to close in on him and grabbed the barrel of his rifle. At this point, Fetty started to fear the worst. “I was pretty sure he had a (suicide) vest on under his lab coat, but I still didn’t know for sure,” he said.
Rather than shirking him off, Fetty used the distance his weapon created between him and his attacker to his advantage. “I knew that if he grabbed hold of my armor or my person in any way, I was toast,” he said. “There was no getting out of it at that point. I wouldn’t be able to stop him from detonating himself.”
He slowly maneuvered toward a clearing between the hospital and the nearby administrative huts, away from the crowd. “I figured that if I stalled him long enough, everyone else would do their job and get the area cleared,” he said.
Fetty kept his eyes locked with his attackers’. “The last thing I wanted him to do was lose focus on me, because he didn’t want me,” he said. “The governor of the province was there, and he was the primary target. Suicide bombers rarely attack Americans; they want government officials. So I had to keep his focus on me.”
As the struggle continued, Fetty recognized he probably wouldn’t survive. “You resign yourself pretty quick. You just stop thinking at that point about yourself,” he said. “It was either going to be me or 20 other people back there. … Suicide bombers are next to impossible to stop. All you can do is limit the damage that they can do.”
The chain of events “becomes sketchy” when Fetty recalls what happened after he maneuvered the attacker around the corner from the crowd. “Things happened very, very quickly,” he said. Friends told Fetty he tackled the attacker, but he doesn’t remember that. He recalls hitting him with the butt of his weapon, then firing warning shots at the ground near his feet.
The attacker came at him, so Fetty fired into his lower legs, then his kneecap. “He stood back up, even though I gave him a crippling wound,” he said. “He got back up and tried to come at me again.”
Fetty said he remembers hearing the blast of weapons from other members of the security team firing at the attacker. He shot again, at the man’s stomach. He’d heard that it’s safe to fire into a suicide vest, but didn’t want to test his luck by firing into the attacker’s chest. “That’s a bad way for me to end up in a bunch of pieces,” he said.
Then the attacker looked at Fetty with “the scariest face I’ve ever seen.” The standoff had turned personal. “Earlier, he just looked crazy, but now he wanted to kill me,” Fetty said. “I knew what his intent was, and I abandoned all hopes of killing the guy before he would explode.”
Fetty took three steps before making a “Hollywood dive.” The blast came as he hit the ground, peppering him with shrapnel in the face, leg and ankle. All that remained where he had struggled with the attacker was a big hole in the ground.
For several months after the incident, Fetty second-guessed his actions. He fretted that several other soldiers and an Afghan security guard had received shrapnel wounds. Should he have shot sooner or done something differently? “Maybe I could have done it so nobody got hurt, or at least just I got hurt,” he said.
All he had wanted to do was protect his fellow soldiers, the Afghan people they were helping and the new emergency room his provincial reconstruction team had spent months working to make a reality.
In the end, he accepted that he’d made the best of a bad situation by limiting collateral damage as he applied the training that had been drilled into him. “We train hard,” and for every imaginable scenario, including dealings with a suicide bomber, he said. “You go through your rules of engagement and pray that it all works out the way it’s supposed to. This time it happened to work out.”
For his actions that day the 32-year-old pharmacist from Parkersburg, W. Va., became the first Army reservist to receive the Silver Star for valor in Afghanistan. Fetty’s commander said his actions went far beyond saving “countless, countless lives.”
“His actions, along with the actions of others on the team, really prevented a strategic catastrophe,” said Cmdr.. Wade.
Although he’s proud to receive the Silver Star, Fetty said anyone in his shoes would have acted the same way. “I don’t really believe in valor that much,” he said. “It’s more like the set of circumstances you’re put in. I think there are plenty of people over there who are just as brave as I am, who fortunately never found themselves in that situation.”
He said he’s convinced that everyone possesses traits of heroism. “It’s in every human nature to protect someone else,” he said, particularly those they’ve bonded with through hundreds of combat missions and countless hours of ping-pong. “It’s a combination of training, loyalty to your friends and basic human nature,” he said.
As of October 2007, Fetty was still assigned to a medical holding company at Fort Bragg, N.C., but said he looks forward to getting back to his troops to instill some of the lessons he’s learned. “You stick to the basics,” he said. “Always have a plan, stick to the plan, but be prepared to change the plan when you need to.”
Looking back, he said he’s glad he felt compelled to volunteer for duty in Afghanistan, even changing his military specialty so he could deploy as part of the civil affairs team.
He’s convinced the PRTs are making “a huge difference” in Afghanistan. “It’s absolutely vital,” he said. “We build roads, build bridges, improve health care. The Afghan government doesn’t really have the means to fix itself by itself.”
Working among the Afghan people was “amazing,” he said. “Every time we’d go and stop someplace, people were happy to see us. Kids knew ‘PRT’ meant that we were going to fix something. We were going to improve their life in some way.”
Wade said Fetty’s actions during a celebration of a PRT milestone “exemplified what we are trying to achieve.” By standing firmly in the face of danger, Fetty demonstrated “that we really are there to help the people of Afghanistan,” he said.
Fetty’s actions had a ripple effect in Khost province, he said. Furious that terrorists would try to undo the progress being made, local leaders and mullahs staged a peace rally following the would-be attack. They decreed acts of violence “unIslamic,” Wade said, and helped get word out to the people “that the United States and coalition are truly here to help.”
Wade said he’s glad Fetty is being recognized for his actions, “and for the tactical and strategic impact he had.”
“It was an incredible honor to have served with him,” he said.
SSG Fetty is a man who put his life on hold to participate in something bigger than himself. He volunteered for Afghanistan in order to make a positive difference in the lives of others. While some people talk about that, he did it. And when confronted with a man who would destroy all the good he had labored so hard to help build, he valorously took action which assured that didn’t happen. That’s why SSG Jason Fetty of Joint Provisional Reconstruction Team Khost, pharmacist, reservist, patriot and recipient of the Silver Star is someone you should know.
Previously featured in “Project Hero”:
1LT Brian Chontosh: Navy Cross
PFC Daniel McClenney: Silver Star
PVT Dwayne Turner: Silver Star
MSG Robert Collins & SFC Danny Hall: Silver Star
SSG William Thomas Payne: Silver Star
CPT Christoper J. Bronzi: Silver Star
SSG Charles Good: Silver Star
SR AMN Jason D. Cunningham: Air Force Cross
PFC Jeremy Church: Silver Star
SGT Leigh Ann Hester: Silver Star
CSM Ron Riling: Silver Star
CPL Jason L. Dunham: Medal of Honor
PFC Joseph Perez: Navy Cross
COL James Coffman, Jr: Distinguished Service Cross
1LT Karl Gregory: Silver Star
1LT Brian Stann: Silver Star
MSG Anthony Pryor: Silver Star
TSGT John Chapman: Air Force Cross
MSG Sarun Sar: Silver Star
1LT Jeffery Lee: Silver Star
SGT James Witkowski: Silver Star
SGT Timothy Connors: Silver Star
PO2 Juan Rubio: Silver Star
SFC David Lowe: Silver Star
SGT Leandro Baptista: Silver Star
SPC Gerrit Kobes: Silver Star
SSG Anthony Viggiani: Navy Cross
LCPL Carlos Gomez-Perez: Silver Star
MSG Donald R. Hollenbaugh: Distinguished Service Cross
SGT Jarred L. Adams: Silver Star
1LT Thomas E Cogan: Silver Star
MAJ Mark E. Mitchell: Distinguished Service Cross
CPL Robert Mitchell Jr: Navy Cross
SGT David Neil Wimberg: Silver Star
CWO3 Christopher Palumbo: Silver Star
SGT Tommy Rieman: Silver Star
SCPO Britt Slabinski: Navy Cross
LT David Halderman: FDNY – 9/11/01
1LT Stephen Boada: Silver Star
1LT Neil Prakash: Silver Star
SFC Gerald Wolford: Silver Star
SSG Matthew Zedwick: Silver Star
LCPL Christopher Adlesperger: Navy Cross
SGT Joshua Szott: Silver Star
SPC Richard Ghent: Silver Star
CPL Mark Camp: Silver Star
CW3 Lori Hill: Distinguished Flying Cross
SGT Paul R. Smith: Medal of Honor
PFC Ross A. McGinnis: Medal of Honor
SGT Joseph E. Proctor: Silver Star
PFC Christopher Fernandez: Silver Star
MAJ James Gant: Silver Star
1SG John E. Mangels: Silver Star
Staff Sgt Michael Shropshire: Silver Star
Staff Sgt Stephen Achey: Silver Star
SFC Frederick Allen: Silver Star
PO2 (SEAL) Marc A. Lee: Silver Star
PFC Stephan C. Sanders, Distinguished Service Cross
CPT Joshua Glover: Silver Star
CPT Brennan Goltry: Silver Star
Cpl. Dale A. Burger: Silver Star
CPL Clinton Warrick: Silver Star
LT (SEAL) Michael P Murphy: Medal of Honor
CW4 Keith Yoakum: Distinguished Service Cross
1LT Walter Bryan Jackson: Distinguished Service Cross
SGT Rafael Peralta, USMC: Navy Cross
SSG Timothy Nein: Distinguished Service Cross
SGT Willie Copeland III: Navy Cross
SPC Monica Lin Brown: Silver Star
1LT David Tiedeman: Silver Star
SSG Raymond Bittinger: Silver Star
SSG Chad Malmberg: Silver Star
PO2 (SEAL) Michael Mansoor: Medal of Honor
LCPL Todd Corbin: Navy Cross
MSG Brendan O’Conner: Distinguished Service Cross
SGT Merlin German: “Miracle Man”
2nd Plt, C Co., 2/503 AIR, 173rd ABCT
CPT Brent Morel: Navy Cross
CPL Moses Cardenas: Silver Star
PROJECT HERO is an ongoing attempt to highlight the valor of our military as they fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We constantly hear the negative and far to little of the positive and inspiring stories coming out of those countries. This is one small attempt to rectify that. If you know of a story of valor you’d like to see highlighted here, please contact us. And we’d appreciate your link so we can spread the word.