Project Hero: SSG Matthew Zedwick, Silver Star Posted by: McQ
on Saturday, October 07, 2006
Valor is defined as "courage and boldness". As you read the story of today's hero, SSG Matthew Zedwick of Bravo Company, 2d Battalion, 162 Infantry Regiment of the Oregon Army National Guard, you'll see it epitomized in the action in which he engaged and for which he was awarded the Silver Star.
Shortly after daybreak on June 13, 2004, Zedwick and other members of 2d Platoon sortied from their operating base at Camp Cook in Taji to patrol the MSR as well as threat areas adjacent to the highway. With 2d Platoon moving out in a convoy of four HMMWVs, Zedwick took up his position at the wheel of the third vehicle. He recalls:
Our mission was to maneuver off the main road about a thousand meters in each direction and patrol through the neighborhoods to deter enemy activity such as mortar fire or roadside bombs.
Shortly after midday, with temperatures climbing to 120o, the four HMMWV convoy was moving north along the MSR - approaching what appeared to be a small asphalt plant on the side of the highway. Zedwick's platoon leader thought the plant and the Iraqis there bore closer examination. Zedwick recounts
We went there and checked it out... we talked to the guys and searched them, but we didn't find anything.
Departing the plant to resume their security operations along the MSR, Soldiers of 2d Platoon approached a white civilian vehicle parked on the shoulder of the road with its hood open. As Zedwick's HMMWV neared the derelict vehicle, his platoon leader, sensing danger, called on the radio, directing his men to steer wide. The call came too late. Zedwick recalls that as he began to pass the vehicle, the enemy sprung their ambush.
First, the white vehicle blew up. Apparently, the guys at the factory had remote devices to detonate a bomb inside it from one of the towers at the asphalt factory.
The initial explosion catapulted Zedwick's HMMWV into the air. When it landed, smoke began to fill the vehicle. Zedwick recalls that
At first, I really didn't know what had happened. The only thing I knew was that we were in an ambush, and our training tells us to get out of the kill zone of the ambush. I looked over and saw my Squad Leader. He was unconscious. I tried to get him to respond, got a couple of words out of him, and saw he was coming to. The next thing I had to do was get him and me out of that vehicle, because it was on fire.
With the HMMWV now in flames, Zedwick kicked the heavy armored door to his left open - immediately exposing him to enemy rifle and machinegun fire. Once out of the HMMWV, Zedwick noticed fuel pouring out of the vehicle, obviously making the situation all the more volatile.
At that moment, I was yelling out the name of the gunner in the back ... a guy I had known for five years. I ran to the other side of the vehicle, I instantly realized he had died on impact from the explosion.
Above the din of the exploding enemy mortar rounds, Zedwick could hear Soldiers of 2d Platoon engaging the enemy with a heavy volume of fire. Still in the open, and with enemy mortar rounds raining down around him, Zedwick focused his attention on rescuing his injured squad leader from the burning HMMWV.
At great risk to his own safety, Zedwick braved the fire and the risk that ammo in the burning HMMWV would detonate to pull his squad leader from the vehicle - just seconds before it exploded. However, this now left Zedwick and his Squad Leader exposed to enemy fire in the middle of the road. Thinking quickly, Zedwick grabbed an armored door blown from the HMMWV to create a vital amount of cover for him and his squad leader. Then he dragged his squad leader to a position of relative safety next to his platoon leader's vehicle. With his squad leader safe, Zedwick then returned once more to his shattered HMMWV to retrieve the body of his fallen friend. He recalls:
When I got back to the burning HMMWV, I wasn't able to get in there. It was totally on fire. There was a supply of M203 high explosive grenade rounds in there, and they started cooking off.
Despite the intense heat and danger from both enemy fire and the rounds that were exploding inside the burning HMMWV, Zedwick was able to retrieve extra weapons and a radio from the vehicle.
Meanwhile, employing fire and maneuver, the Soldiers of 2d Platoon succeeded in flanking the enemy position and occupied terrain with adequate cover to establish a landing zone for inbound medivac helicopters. As the platoon leader organized his Soldiers to counter further enemy attacks, Zedwick took his place on the line.
It was at this point that, with the situation in hand, and the fire fight over, Zedwick took notice of his injuries:
I had a big piece of shrapnel in my wrist. I didn't notice anything. The adrenaline rush - there was just so much running through my body that I didn't feel the pain.
In recognition of his "gallantry in the face of the enemy" and for his "disregard for his own personal safety to ensure the safety of his comrades and the completion of the mission", Zedwick was awarded the 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 (published on Saturday), please contact us. And we'd appreciate your link so we can spread the word.