Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Wednesday Hero

Maj. Mark Mitchell
On November 14, 2003 Army Maj. Mark Mitchell became the first man awarded the Distinguished Service Cross since the Vietnam War. Maj. Mitchell was the ground force commander of a rescue operation in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan in 2001 while assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group.
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The details of how the bloody battle started are still unconfirmed. However, most reports from eyewitnesses indicate that the three-day conflict erupted when an a Taliban enemy prisoner of war drew a grenade while being searched, pulled the pin and killed himself and a Northern Alliance commander.

The suicide attack triggered the uprising and an estimated 500 Taliban prisoners being held in Qala-I-Jangi, which means “House of War,” stormed two CIA agents working at the facility who were interviewing prisoners. Spann, one of ambushed agents, died at the prison and the other agent escaped.

Mitchell, 38, a Desert Storm veteran, heard of the attack when a Northern Alliance soldier rushed into a facility his unit was preparing for humanitarian workers and told him that he and his men were needed immediately at the prison.

Mitchell organized a team of 16 British and American soldiers and sped to the prison about 25 kilometers away.

When they arrived, Mitchell led his soldiers into battle against prisoners who had armed themselves with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, machine guns, and rifles they collected from armories at the prison. Armed with a rifle and pistol, Mitchell, wearing no body armor and head protection, climbed to the highest point of the fortress to survey the battleground.

From that vantage point, Mitchell’s men began to call in air strikes on the Taliban. Later that evening, Mitchell and his men withdrew from the prison to plan the next day’s operations.

The following morning, Mitchell’s men returned to the fortress and were greeted by a barrage of gunfire. Mitchell and his unit requested more air support, but misfortune struck when a bomb fell near Mitchell’s team injuring nine of his soldiers.

After evacuating his injured men for most of the day, Mitchell returned to the fortress under the cover of darkness with five men and directed more air strikes on the enemy positions. By morning of the third day, most of the prisoners had been killed, and those who remained were killed when the Northern Alliance rolled into the compound with tanks.

Mitchell’s award credits “his unparalleled courage under fire, decisive leadership and personal sacrifice,” which it said “were directly responsible for the success of the rescue operation and were further instrumental in ensuring the city of Mazar-e-Sharif did not fall back in the hands of the Taliban.”

Crossposted @ Hooah Wife
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