For only the sixth time in history, a member of the elite U.S. Navy SEALs will be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during a mission to rescue an American doctor being held prisoner, the details of which were declassified earlier today.
Senior Chief Ed Byers, a member of DEVGRU, also known as SEAL Team Six, will be presented the award on February 29th by President Obama. The commendation for the medal only states “his courageous actions while serving as part of a team that rescued an American civilian being held hostage in Afghanistan, December 8-9, 2012” but details have been released and they are amazing.
After patrolling through the Afghan mountains for four hours in which, according to a Navy report, the team traded “personal security for speed of action” they approached the compound where Dr. Dilip Joseph had been held captive for 5 days. Inside, Joseph heard dogs barking and sheep bleating causing two of his captors to go outside to investigate.
The Taliban soldiers came back quickly and conferred briefly, apparently not having seen anything. A few hours later, Joseph was startled from sleep to the sound of gunfire, according to USA Today:
The SEAL Team, about 80 feet from the building, had been spotted by a guard. The forward-most SEAL, Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas Checque, shot at the guard, who escaped inside. Checque followed him and was shot.
Byers was second through the door. As he tackled an enemy fighter — adjusting his night-vision goggles even as he struggled — a teammate tried to locate the hostage.
“Is Dilip Joseph here?” the teammate shouted, according to Joseph’s account. When he identified himself, one of the SEALs — now known to be Byers — immediately laid down on top of him to protect him from the fighting. Amid the gunfire, Byers calmly asked if he had been fed, if he could walk and if he had been mistreated.
Even as he did so, Byers pinned the last Taliban fighter to the wall, allowing his fellow team members to shoot and kill him, the Navy report said.
Five Taliban fighters died that night. One Navy SEAL – the first man through the door, a 28-year-old the others called Nic – was shot in the forehead and would later die.
“It was amazingly clinical how they handled the whole situation,” Joseph said. “They’re just amazing. They’re very good at what they’re trained to do. But they’re human, too.”
Rear Adm. Brian Losey told reporters, “The strength of the Naval Special Warfare community is in its exceptional people. Senior Chief Ed Byers’ actions on the battlefield reflect the highest ideals of our profession: bravery, selfless dedication to duty and above all, the highest level of commitment to protect the lives of others and the freedom for which our nation stands. We are humbled by Senior Chief Byers’ incredible example of service and are proud to call him teammate.”