Project Hero: SFC Frederick Rowell, Silver Star
For some, bravery and courage is rooted so deep, the heroic becomes almost common place. Sergeant First Class Frederick Rowell exemplifies this fine character trait. SFC Rowell, a US Army infantryman, was deployed to Iraq for two tours, both of which took place during some of the most pivotal moments of that ongoing campaign, and both times he distinguished himself with valor and heroism.
SGT Rowell was not originally scheduled to deploy to Iraq with a combat unit. In fact, he was an instructor at Ft. Polk. Rowell had joined the army at age 17, and had served 6 years stateside duty until then. But when a call came down for volunteers to join an infantry unit deploying to Iraq, without consulting anyone he stepped forward. 48 hours later he had said good bye to his wife and family and was on an airplane bound for Kuwait.
In the thunder run that was the invasion of Iraq, then-Sergeant Rowell was involved in the critical fight for the Baghdad International Airport. April 4, 2003 was the first great test of this young non-commissioned officer’s dedication to his fellow soldiers. Remember, he’s just joined them and hasn’t really trained with them extensively to this point. But as you’ll see he rose to the occasion.
After dismounting his Bradley fighting vehicle, Rowell’s unit came under heavy automatic and rocket-propelled grenade fire. After assessing the severity of the fire, Rowell covered his comrades as they fell back to their Bradley. During this withdrawal phase, he noticed another fire team was pinned down far from cover and taking heavy fire. For those of you unfamiliar with the structure of an infantry platoon, two fire teams make up a squad of about 10 infantrymen. 4 squads make up a platoon. So a fire team is about 5 soldiers led by a sergeant.
Once his own fire team was in the relative safety of his Bradley fighting vehicle, Rowell did not hesitate to act to aid the pinned down fire team.
Charging across about 300 meters of open terrain under fire from Iraqi forces, Rowell arrived at the location of the isolated fire team to find it leaderless and with a severely wounded soldier. Rowell took charge and sprang into action. He gave the team direction, telling them where to concentrate their fire and deploying them to maximize it. After he had them laying down cover fire he began applying first aid to the wounded soldier. As the enemy attack became more focused and more intense, Rowell threw himself on top of the soldier, using his own body as a shield while another Bradley fighting vehicle attempted to close in on their beleaguered position.
“I had to lay on him. He was in shock, moving his legs around and the rounds were coming in everywhere. I was afraid he was going to get hit again. So, I laid on top of him. About this time I got shot in the plates, in my Interceptor Body Armor. I got shot there.”
As he was covering the injured soldier with his own body, Rowell took a direct hit from an AK-47 round in his back. The good news is, it was stopped by his body armor. But it was a round that would have almost certainly killed the soldier under Rowell who had been stripped of his protective vest in order to treat his wounds. With the evacuation vehicle blocked from coming any closer, Rowell hoisted the wounded soldier onto his back and ran some 100 meters to that vehicle in order to evacuate the severely wounded soldier. His action was credited with saving the soldier’s life. He then lead the withdrawal of the rest of the fire team to the safety of US lines.
4 years later, now Staff Sergeant Rowell was again deployed to Iraq, as a part of the Surge.
On September 11th of 2007, Rowell, now squad leader, was on a scouting mission to observe insurgent activity in a volatile part of Baghdad. The idea, of course, was to get soldiers into areas they’d never previously been in to begin to root out the terrorists and protect the population.
His squad was split into two observation posts in two buildings. They were there to observe activity on a road on which IEDs were frequently planted. As Rowell said, it was a ‘real bad’ part of Baghdad. He and his soldiers were located on the 2nd floor of an abandoned house when they observed some activity during the night.
An enemy scout was snooping around the house in which they were located. He tried to get into the door then backed off and disappeared before they could do anything. Rowell hoped they hadn’t been compromised, but in a few minutes 3 of the enemy rushed across the area near the house and up to it, then withdrew. What the soldiers didn’t know is the enemy had planted a 2L soda bottle loaded with homemade explosives and a pressure plate near the door. The terrorists then opened fire from three different directions. SSG Rowell contacted his platoon headquarters and reported that he was under fire and his position had been compromised. His platoon leader ordered them to withdraw to his position.
As enemy fire poured in on them, Rowell planned to move his squad to the other observation post. He planned his route and the order in which they’d move out of the building, and how they’d support each other as they moved. He lined the men of his squad up in the order they’d go and then gave them the order to go. Rowell was second in line.
But the first soldier down the stairs was severely injured by the IED the terrorists had planted earlier. As Rowell stepped out of the door, the blast blew Rowell off the second floor landing and knocked him unconscious. He lay there for 4 or 5 minutes before regaining consciousness as the battle raged around him. His squad had pulled back into the house.
Rowell regained his focus – despite being later diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury – and looked around to assess the situation. He said “I saw a body out there and I saw it moving.” He rose to his feet, running to the aid of his comrade, Spc Jonathan Prusner. Prusner’s left leg had been blown off below the knee. Under heavy fire, Rowell pulled Prusner back into the building, treated him and defended him from the numerous attackers. In the meantime his platoon leader had requested the quick reaction force, a Stryker platoon, to move to the ambush location to rescue the squad.
On other thing I should add – SSG Rowell was completely deaf from the IED explosion at this time. He couldn’t hear a thing. And although his hearing would return at a later date, he was unable to communicate by radio at this time. So he had only one option left to him when it became necessary to direct the fire of the quick reaction force upon their arrival.
He ran back out into the fire storm and physically directed the reinforcements fire onto the enemy positions. He then helped evacuate Spc. Prusner into one of the Strykers. Finally on the way out of the kill-zone, Rowell manned the roof gun on the Stryker as they evacuated the injured to a combat hospital.
In these two events, Rowell’s heroism was undeniable. He is the epitome of a combat infantryman and non-commissioned officer. By ignoring his own safety and using his body as a shield to protect a wounded soldier in 2003, he was awarded the Silver Star. For coming to the aid of Spc. Prusner and displaying steadfast courage under harrowing fire in 2007, he earned the Bronze Star Medal with the “V” device for Valor.
Recently promoted to Sergeant First Class, Rowell’s reaction is precisely what you would expect – “I was only doing my job”, he says. He has become very good friends with the young man that he saved, but who lost his leg. That’s because they’re both recovering together at the Warrior Transition Center at Walter Reed Medical Center. The bond they formed in combat has helped them both in their recovery process. And SFC Rowell also credits the rock steady support he’s received from his wife and family. Said Rowell:
“My wife has been there to help me out. Been very supportive. All around I think the greatest Army wife out there ever.”
What is it SFC Rowell wants to do as soon as he’s recovered from his injuries? He says, “I want to get back to soldiers”.
And the soldiers who end up with SFC Rowell as their platoon sergeant will be among the most fortunate infantrymen in the Army. And that is why SFC Frederick Rowell, United States Army infantryman, and awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star with Valor device and Purple Heart during two deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 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
SSG Jason Fetty: 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.