Over Thanksgiving, more than four thousand Army Green Berets will be deployed around the world in more than 70 countries.
Known as the “quiet professionals,” Green Berets operate in utmost secrecy all over the world, from the Middle East, to Africa, to Asia. But every now and then, they are forced into the limelight, revealing their world-class training, skills, and teamwork.
Such an instance occurred this October, when President Trump awarded Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams the Medal of Honor — the country’s top military honor for valor for his actions in Afghanistan.
Faced with bad weather, a punishing terrain, a larger enemy force, and a strategically inferior position — a team of Green Berets managed to overcome the odds and bring every one of their team members home alive.
Williams, who spoke at the Pentagon in October, remembers that ominous morning on April 6, 2008, of what came to be later known as the Battle of Shok Valley.
It was at the height of the Afghanistan War, as leaders in Washington were trying to figure out how to quell what was clearly a worsening situation. Williams’ team, Operational Detachment Alpha 3336, was one of the first Special Forces teams to start training Afghan commandos.
On that day, the mission was to capture or kill a Hezeb Islami al Gulbadin (HIG) leader. Exactly who it was is still classified.
“The target was a village 10,000-feet up in the northern Afghanistan mountainside in Nuristan, Afghanistan, along the border of Pakistan,” said Lt. Col. Kyle Walton, the ODA commander on the mission. He went on to say:
It was in Northeast Afghanistan in a totally enemy-controlled area at the time, Nuristan, so you’re starting behind enemy lines. It’s not a place that U.S. forces had gone to previously to my knowledge, nor did the Russian during their day — they had stopped short of there, so historically it’s a stronghold of HIG forces and not someplace that you just go in easily so.
Originally, commanders planned to airlift the 14 U.S. and roughly 100 Afghan commandos to the rooftops of the village to face off with an estimated 200 enemy fighters.
The mission was called off several times due to the weather, but time was of the essence. The team would have to land below the village and climb up about 60 feet to the village.
A couple of hours after daybreak, ODA 3336 descended into a valley below their target in Chinooks. They faced their first obstacle right away. The valley was so narrow, they could not land. They hovered about 10 feet over a riverbed filled with jagged boulders and rocks covered in ice and snow.
Retired Army Master Sgt. Scott Ford — the team’s first sergeant — remembered looking down from the edge of the Chinook.
“We kept telling the helicopter loadmaster, you know, ‘Get the bird down further,’ and they were like ‘Hey, that’s it. That’s all we have.'”
They had to jump with all their gear. “At that point you got to let go and see what happens,” Ford said.
“Guys [were] falling and tripping all over the place,” Williams recalled.
The next obstacle was even more daunting. They faced near vertical cliffs up to the village. “Moving up that riverbed to the mountain, we really saw immediately how big it really was,” said Williams.
Staff Sgt. Ronald J. Shurer, the team’s medic, remembered thinking how quiet it was. “Like the cliche — it’s too quiet,” he said.
That’s when the the sound of gunfire erupted from above.
“Everything just kind of exploded all at once — machine gun fire, some RPGs started going off,” Williams said.
“It wasn’t just like a battle broke out and got bigger, it was simultaneous — everybody hit, from the first shot within two or three seconds, everybody around me and my position was wounded or dead,” Walton said.
Both the lead assault element and command and control element were hit and pinned down.
Walton said their Afghan interpreter was killed instantly. “He was shot in head, he was dead right from the get go…All these shots were head shots, or pelvis shots or right in the middle of the chest — they knew what they were doing,” he said.
“It was obvious from initial contact with the enemy that they were very well trained. They were focused on the command and control element, which is a good tactic to try to eliminate our radios, and our commander, and the guys who control the close air support,” he said.
Williams, Ford, and Shurer, who were in the rear assault element, then charged up the mountain to extract those pinned down.
“Immediately then it became ‘Hey we’ve got four wounded Americans and we need to do whatever’s possible to get them home safely,'” Williams said. “I think that’s what occupied my mindset from that point forward.”
Then Ford and Shurer, were hit, too. Ford was badly wounded, but Shurer was able to reach the lead element and treat the wounded. He then moved to the command and control element to assist them, too.
Williams set up a plan to evacuate the wounded, and he and Shurer moved them down a near-vertical 60-foot cliff to a casualty collection point. Williams also reestablished the team’s satellite radio communications.
When the casualty collection point was in danger of being overrun, Williams led a counter-attack. When helicopters arrived to evacuate the wounded, Williams carried and loaded casualties onto helicopters, exposing himself to enemy fire.
The entire battle lasted more than six hours.
Williams was awarded the Silver Star Medal in 2008. It was upgraded to a Medal of Honor in October.
His citation read:
Sergeant Williams’ complete disregard for his own safety and his concern for the safety of his teammates ensured the survival of four critically wounded soldiers and prevented the lead element of the assault force from being overrun by the enemy. Sergeant Williams’ actions are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, Special Operations Command Central, and the United States Army.
When they looked back on that day, all said there was not a moment where they thought they were facing the end.
“At no one point in time did I ever sit there and say, ‘It’s over. This is it.’ That type of thinking is not something that we do, that we’re trained to do, and it’s frankly not something that gets you into the position of being Green Berets,” Williams said.
Ford agreed. “There was just no time to have any other thoughts, and also we’re selected as Green Berets because we have a never quit, never give up, I don’t care if I’m surrounded, I’m going to fight my way out of this mentality. That’s what we’re selected for and that’s what Green Berets do.”
They did, however, know the odds were steep.
“Certainly nobody plans to start off the day fighting climbing a mountain uphill,” he said. “The terrain always looks way worse when you show up than it does from the air…when you hit the ground there’s more buildings, there’s more rocks, they’re a little bit steeper than you thought it was going to be.”
He said it was so cold that some of those wounded suffered from hypothermia.
“We had so many contingencies stacked up immediately in the first minute,” Ford said. “They were prepared, they were waiting on us, we were surrounded, the extreme terrain, we were outnumbered, and then you add casualties.”
“As good as we had trained and as good as we managed it, you know, there still comes a point where that adds up,” he said.
They gave heavy credit to the aircrews for their survival.
“Thank goodness for the United States Air Force,” Shurer said. “I never saw the kind of amazing acrobatics … and some of the maneuvers that those pilots did.”
He said A-10 and F-15 fighter jets, as well as Apache and Blackhawk helicopters, were deployed. “They even launched a B-1 bomber out of Iraq,” he said.
“We launched more than 70 Danger Close airstrikes and one of them was almost directly on top of our position to prevent us from being overrun,” Shurer said. “I think almost every strike was Danger Close, to include F-15 shooting guns only.”
“They flew right into it knowing the hazards they were going to be facing and they still did their job to come help us,” he said.
But they said what ultimately got them through was their trust in each other.
“The thing that won the day and the only reason that any of us are alive today is because of our faith in each other, our faith in God and the absolute refusal to quit,” said Walton.
“When you train hard and struggle together, you know that really helps build a team and build a family. Everybody’s invested the same blood, sweat and tears to really build that cohesive bond, and that was true of this team. We trained really hard. We took our work very very seriously.”
Williams said his Medal of Honor symbolized the Green Berets community.
“That’s really what I want — when they see the medal, that’s what they see, it’s Third Group doing great things, the Special Forces community in general — this is a story of their capabilities and what we’re trained to do,” he said.
They said that somewhere around the world, there is a current iteration of ODA 3336, doing the same things they were doing, even if Americans were not aware of it.
“There are guys doing that right now somewhere around the world, and most of these missions you don’t hear about by design,” Walton said. “These guys are never going to quit, they’re never going to accept defeat, and they’ll fight to the end. and it’s always been that way. So the American people should be proud of that,” he said.
Williams said his message for them is, “Keep doing what you’re doing.”
Follow Breitbart News’ @Kristina_Wong.