Written by Roger Aronoff
Last week the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs held its annual event honoring six young military heroes for their bravery in the war on terrorism. The six represent each of the five branches of the U.S. military and the U.S. Special Operations Command. These Grateful Nation awards have been held since 2003.
As part of its mission, the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, JINSA, focuses heavily on national security issues affecting the U.S. and Israel. One honoree of the evening was Senator Mark Kirk (R- IL), who received the Distinguished Service Award. JINSA describes him as a “leader on preventing a nuclear Iran”—a leader, particularly, in sanctions on Iran. Sen. Kirk co-authored bipartisan amendments that blacklisted parts of the Iranian economy, prohibited the sale or delivery of raw precious metals to Iran, and helped disconnect banks associated with this country. “These crippling sanctions have exerted unprecedented economic pressure on Iran,” notes JINSA.
Sen. Kirk’s stance is particularly noteworthy, given the current U.S.-Iranian climate in which the Iranian government is saying that any new sanctions passed by the U.S. Congress would kill the recent Geneva nuclear deal. Kirk is one of the leaders of a bipartisan effort in the Senate pushing for new sanctions on Iran, in defiance of the Obama administration.
In addition, Senator Kirk’s bipartisan “Eyes in the Sky” efforts helped extend Israel’s warning time for an Iranian missile launch from less than a minute to 11 minutes.
Also honored that evening was past JINSA president and Board of Advisors Chairman David Steinmann, who received the JINSA National Leadership Award.
The Master of Ceremonies of the evening was Fox News’ Catherine Herridge, who was the recipient this year of Accuracy in Media’s Reed Irvine award for investigative journalism for her work on the terrorist attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
Those receiving the Grateful Nation awards are chosen by their respective branches of the military. The awards were presented by Admiral William H. McRaven, Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command. The recipients of these awards are meant to represent the heroism exhibited daily by all of the men and women in our nation’s military.
Regrettably, the media continue to ignore this very powerful and moving event, thereby overlooking the achievements of these outstanding Americans.
You can read the stories of these six military heroes, as written in the event program, below:
United States Army
First Lieutenant Robert A. Heber, Jr.
First Lieutenant Robert A. Heber, Jr. currently serves in the 205th Military Intelligence Battalion, Fort Shafter, Hawaii. His 13 years of contributions as a non-commissioned officer with the 75th Ranger Regiment began with the United States’ earliest involvement in Afghanistan, including eight deployments to Afghanistan and one to Iraq and continue today as an officer. After September 11, 2001 and throughout the Global War on Terrorism, he was responsible for training and mentoring Special Operations Forces and Ranger Regiment snipers and various special mission teams to deploy, execute special operations, intelligence, and reconnaissance missions, and return safely. His first deployment came in October 2001 when he and 169 other Rangers conducted a night parachute assault to seize the airfield at Kandahar, Afghanistan.
He conducted a second night parachute assault to seize an airfield in western Iraq and then participated in the assault on Baghdad. His personal contributions during these operations led to the removal of dozens of high value Taliban, Iraqi, and al Qaeda members from the battlefield, including 12 members of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle. He earned the Bronze Star. He was responsible for leading, employing, managing, and safeguarding his subordinates engaged in armed combat, operating independently from larger elements, while tasked with high priority missions and being tested in the most demanding and unforgiving combat environments.
He has undergone several exclusive, advanced programs of leader training that led to his participating in the development of the Asymmetric Operations Working Group. In 2010, he was recognized as the Asymmetric Operations Working Group’s Asymmetric Warrior of the Year and was selected to commission as an officer. In 2012, he had earned his bachelor’s degree, completed officer training, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. He was an outstanding noncommissioned officer and made the transition to the officer ranks seamlessly, where he provides direct mentorship to junior soldiers daily. First Lieutenant Heber exemplifies a true warrior and leader who embodies the principle of selfless service to his country.
United States Marine Corps
Sergeant Anthony A. Arriaga
On July 30, 2010, Sergeant Anthony A. Arriaga, then-Corporal Arriaga, was serving as a fire team leader with 2nd Battalion, Fourth Marines, when his team came under heavy, accurate fire from six separate enemy position while on combat patrol in Marja, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Taking aggressive action, he immediately and repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to provide suppressive fire to cover his team’s movement out of danger. While bounding, he was shot in his body equipment, knocking him to the ground. Disregarding his personal safety, he exposed himself and returned fire.
During this engagement Corporal Arriaga was shot a second time by a precision shooter. He immediately reported his wounds and administered self-aid while continuing to direct the action of his team. At the same time, he called in his own medical evacuation request. While receiving aid from a corpsman and still under heavy fire, he continued to expose himself and direct the fire and maneuver of his team. Corporal Arriaga’s courage and devotion to his Marines inspired them to aggressively engage the enemy, breaking the enemy’s will to fight and forcing their withdrawal. His severe and debilitating wounds could have diverted any Marine’s personal development. Corporal Arriaga, however, did not see it that way. He took his wounds as a way to remake himself into a better Marine. During his recovery, he made it his individual responsibility to continue to mentor other Marines and set the example of what it means to be a Marine.
A few of his accolades and accomplishments include: dedicating his time and wealth of knowledge to instructing Marines on all aspects of the Wounded Warrior Regiment, in pursuit of which he gave speeches and guided discussions throughout Camp Pendleton, reaching more that 800 Marines just since the summer of 2013 and being named the Wounded Warrior Regiment’s Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year. In recognition for his post-wounding achievements, Corporal Arriaga was meritoriously promoted to sergeant, the first meritorious promotion of this grade awarded in the Wounded Warrior Regiment. Sergeant Anthony A. Arriaga epitomizes the core values and citizen-warrior attributes of the Marine Corps. His self less dedication to the Marine Corps and his community exemplifies the JINSA Grateful Nation Award and the goals of the organization.
United States Navy
Chief Petty Office Brian P. High
Chief Petty Officer Brian P. High is a Scan Eagle Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Mission Commander with Patrol Squadron SIXTEEN, based at Jacksonville Naval Air Station. Chief High, understanding that his highly developed skill set was needed to support troops in the field, volunteered as an individual augmentee for service in Shindand, Afghanistan from July 2013 to October 2013. During that time, he supported time- critical Special Operations activities in a hostile and ever changing environment. As a Scan Eagle Mission Commander, Chief High was responsible for the safe and timely execution of real time intelligence collection and direct action support of forward deployed Special Operations Forces. Chief High’s Scan Eagle team has been lauded by the entire Special Operations community for its ability to quickly get on target, and effectively communicate mission information. Many American and Coalition lives were saved due to Chief High’s Scan Eagle team’s tireless dedication to duty, making him most worthy of the recognition afforded by the JINSA Grateful Nation Award.
United States Coast Guard
Petty Officer Third Class Michael R. Brooks
Petty Officer Third Class Michael R. Brooks of Cryptologic Unit Hawaii, an Intelligence Specialist, distinguished himself by exceptional service while deployed with Cryptologic Support Team 34 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from February to July 2013. As a volunteer for this highly sought after Afghanistan deployment, Petty Officer Brooks performed admirably in a hostile environment where he proficiently transitioned from providing maritime operationally-focused intelligence products to generating intelligence reports spotlighting ground forces support and logistics. During three Afghan National Army and International Security Force operations, Petty Officer Brooks provided critical force protection resulting in zero casualties.
During his deployment, he exhibited exemplary leadership that included training a team of eight U.S. Army Signals Intelligence analysts in utilizing an updated analysis reporting tool suite, resulting in a significant increase in the capability of Brigade Forces in forming a complete common operational picture of the threats in the immediate area. Petty Officer Brooks worked tirelessly to provide signals intelligence support to U.S. and Coalition forces and exercised dynamic leadership and selfless bravery in the field. In response to indirect fire attacks to the forward operating base where he was located, he used his first responder training to aid the medical response team in triage. Petty Officer Brooks is held in the highest esteem by seniors, peers, and juniors in the joint service workplace as a result of his laudable operational accomplishments both in the field and at home.
As a third class petty officer, in competition with first and second class petty officers, he earned recognition as Cryptologic Unit Hawaii’s Sailor of the Quarter from July to September 2012, which had a direct impact on his selection for highly desired Afghanistan deployment. Upon his return from Afghanistan, Petty Officer Brooks was awarded the Joint Service Achievement Medal for his superior accomplishments.
United States Air Force
Technical Sergeant Michael T. Blout
Technical Sergeant Michael T. Blout, a Combat Control Craftsman with the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, 720th Special Tactics Group, 24th Special Operations Wing, Hurlburt, Florida, acted as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller for an elite Army Special Forces team during eight high-risk combat missions in Afghanistan. On one mission, while clearing an enemy-held valley in Wardak, then-Staff Sergeant Blout learned of a casualty in an area some distance from his position.
He immediately selected a small quick-reaction force and led them on a one-mile sprint toward hostile gunfire. Upon reaching a clearing, he located both the casualty and a combat medic working furiously to save his life. Sergeant Blout immediately placed himself between them and the nearby enemy, whose forces were well dug in along a nearby tree line. Amidst unrelenting enemy fire, Sergeant Blout called for a medical evacuation helicopter. Next, he coordinated an AC-130 gunship attack on the enemy. At the sound of the approaching evacuation helicopter, Sergeant Blout, ignoring enemy fire erupting all around him, dashed to open area to mark the landing zone.
During this entire time, he was on the radio coordinating the evacuation helicopter’s approach and the gunship’s attack runs, while simultaneously returning the enemy’s fire with his personal weapon. Seeing an opportunity to shoot down the rescue helicopter, the enemy increased its fire as it approached. Sensing that the enemy might succeed, Sergeant Blout aborted the landing and moved closer to the enemy’s position to suppress their fire, now joined by his team.
They closed within 30 meters and the intensity of their fire on the enemy allowed the rescue helicopter to land and take on the casualty. At this point, the enemy pressed forward and Sergeant Blout led his heavily outnumbered team in a withdrawal while he simultaneously called in strafing runs by AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. As the Apaches departed, the enemy raced to cut off Sergeant Blout’s team, using the dense foliage to cover their movements. The situation had now become a fighting withdrawal with enemy fire coming from the flanks as Sergeant Blout’s team repeatedly returned fire and bounded to new positions in an attempt to link up with reinforcements. Reaching exhaustion, the team held its ground while Sergeant Blout again exposed himself to positively identify insurgent positions as he coordinated another series of Apache strafing runs that ultimately ended the action and enabled the link up with the reinforcements. For his actions that day, Technical Sergeant Blout has been nominated for the Silver Star.
United States Special Operations Command
Captain William R. Wright, USA
Captain William R. Wright, Detachment Commander of Special Forces Operational Detachment-Alpha 3112, Alpha Company, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), conducted village stability operations from September 2012 through April 2013 in three key terrain districts in eastern Paktia Province, Afghanistan. His efforts resulted in developing each district to such an extent that he enabled their complete transition to the sovereignty of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
Captain Wright masterfully synchronized operations between his Special Forces Detachment and Coalition Forces, Interagency Partners, three Afghan District Sub-National Governances, and more than 3,000 Afghan National Security Forces to achieve great success with Village Stability Operations. His leadership spearheaded the Afghanistan government’s efforts to establish legitimacy in several highly contested areas. Captain Wright expertly coordinated bottom-up intelligence-driven Afghan partner force and Coalition Force Special Operations Forces operations that resulted in the capture of 23 Joint Prioritized Effects List targets in Chamkani District. He also facilitated the planning and execution of several large-scale battalion-sized joint interagency, and combined clearing operations to facilitate village stability operations expansion into the Jani Kheyl District.
Captain Wright also worked with the District governments to recruit more than 900 Afghan Local Police to augment Afghan national military forces security operations in key rural areas. He leveraged his unique Afghan partner force capabilities to train a core cadre of Afghan Local Police instructors in each district to orchestrate the three-week program of instruction and certify the police candidates under the Interior Ministry. He also spearheaded an Interior Ministry counter-improvised explosive device program in his districts, where he achieved district government endorsement to counter the largest threat to Afghan civilians and military personnel through the establishment of a Civil Mine Reduction Group. Captain Wright’s outstanding service, achievements and devotion to the Special Operations community reflect great credit upon himself, the United States Army Special Operations Command, the United States Army, and the people of the United States of America.
This is the third year I have documented this event. You can read the past two years stories of other American heroes here.