Project Hero: PFC Christopher Fernandez, Silver Star Posted by: McQ
on Saturday, December 30, 2006
Atremendous story of a young soldier who disregarded danger and injury to himself in order to suppress the enemy's fire and allow the evacuation of his wounded comrades:
PFC Christopher Fernandez, of Battery A, 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery Regiment, was awarded a Silver Star Medal for valor by the 1st Cavalry Division commanding general Aug. 13.
Fernandez said his family was proud, that they had even told members of his church back home about his award, but he didn’t know if they understood that the Silver Star was a big deal.
“It’s a great honor,” said Fernandez, a Multiple Launch Rocket System crewman. “I never thought it would happen.”
Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, 1st Cavalry Division commanding general, said Fernandez embodied the Army values of selfless service and courage.
“Pfc. Christopher Fernandez is a hero,” Chiarelli said. “He represents the best of us. He embodies the Army Values and the Warrior Ethos.”
Fernandez was awarded the Silver Star for his actions on the night of May 5, when his unit came under attack. Fernandez, a Tucson, Ariz. native, was on a patrol through Baghdad’s Saidiyah neighborhood when insurgents ambushed his unit.
An improvised explosive device hit the patrol’s rear vehicle. Immediately following the explosion, the patrol was barraged with small-arms fire. The patrol’s crew-served weapons, an M-240B machine gun and a .50 caliber machine gun, immediately returned fire.
The IED explosion killed two U.S. Soldiers, wounded five others and rendered their vehicle inoperable.
Fernandez returned fire with his weapon, an M-249 squad automatic weapon. He reloaded his weapon at least once during the short engagement, said Capt. Thomas Pugsley, Battery A’s commander.
“There was a tremendous volume of fire coming at them,” Pugsley said.
In all the chaos, Fernandez saw the stricken vehicle’s M-240B machine gun was unused. Fernandez knew that another weapon would suppress the enemy’s fire long enough to evacuate the wounded and leave the area. He left his vehicle, ran to the disabled humvee, and recovered the weapon and its ammunition.
Fernandez then opened fire on the enemy.
What made all of that spectacular was the recovered weapon’s condition, said Pugsley. The handguards covering the machine-gun’s barrel, so the gunner’s hands won’t burn, were blown off in the explosion. That didn’t matter to Fernandez though; he kept firing even though his hands were burning.
Almost 10 minutes later, the wounded were loaded onto the Fernandez’s vehicle, and the ambush site was abandoned.
Pugsley said two other Soldiers were recommended for Bronze Stars with Valor devices for their actions that night. One received it; the other received an Army Commendation with V device, he said.
But to 1st Lt. Ryan Swindell, Fernandez’s platoon leader, and Pugsley, Fernandez’s actions during those hectic minutes warranted a Silver Star.
“He bought those Soldiers time,” Pugsley said.
As I've pointed out numerous times, these young soldiers may, in an abstract way, be fighting for country and flag, but in reality, they're fighting for the guy on the left and right of them. Actions such as those by PFC Fernandez exemplify the bond they share and the willingness and extent to which each will go to support and save their buddies.
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.