SFC Frederick Rowell
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.