JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD — After 10 minutes of intense fighting, the two Green Berets thought they and their teammates had turned back the Taliban fighters who breached the defenses of their base in a brazen attack last summer.
Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Busic and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mark Colbert moved methodically through the airfield in southern Afghanistan, checking for corpses and survivors.
“I hear this metallic clinking,” Colbert said. “Tink, tink, tink.”
One of the seemingly dead fighters had rolled a grenade in Busic’s direction. Colbert called it in time for them to brace and survive.
Then the insurgent detonated his suicide vest.
It was that kind of day at Forward Operating Base Ghazni on Aug. 28 when the Taliban carried out a “spectacular” attack on a fortified NATO position that held more than 1,000 troops.
But Busic, Colbert and their teammates stymied the attack and contained it when they rushed to the breach.
The Army thanked them Thursday by awarding them Silver Stars, one of the military’s highest honors, in a ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The ceremony also recognized 10 other Green Berets from the base south of Tacoma who received Bronze Stars and Army Commendation Medals for their actions in recent fighting. Several put themselves between wounded comrades and enemy gunfire.
“Our regiment, our nation, are lucky to have you,” said Brig. Gen. Darsie Rogers, of Army Special Operations Command.
Both the Silver Star recipients said they were just doing what they trained to do as members of the elite 1st Special Force Group.
“All of us did our job. Right place, right time, with God watching,” Busic said.
The narratives describing the Battle of FOB Ghazni tell a more dramatic story. Busic and Colbert were key players in containing the damage of one of the few attacks in Afghanistan in which enemy fighters penetrated the defenses of a full-scale NATO base.
Both operators came home wounded. Busic took shrapnel to his right side. He doesn’t know if it came from a grenade or a suicide vest. Colbert was shot in the right leg.
One of their teammates from the Navy was wounded, too. And, Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis, 24, of New York’s 10th Mountain Division, lost his life to one of the suicide vests.
“Just glad I made it home,” Busic said.
The attack began shortly before 4 p.m. when insurgents detonated a bomb in a truck placed next to a wall at the forward base. It ripped a hole large enough for 10 Taliban fighters – toting guns, grenades and suicide vests – to run on to the airfield.
Busic and Colbert were at the Special Forces camp a few hundred meters from the explosion. To them, it sounded like one of the rocket attacks to which they’d become accustomed.
Then they saw the mushroom cloud.
At that moment, insurgents outside the base started attacking from several directions with gunfire, mortars and rockets.
Busic and two others jumped in a Toyota Tacoma pickup to join in the attack. They immediately took fire from two directions, and turned to follow Colbert in an all-terrain vehicle with two more operators toward the breach.
Busic’s team hit a “hail of gunfire.” The operators got out of the truck and into a shootout.
Colbert’s team encountered one group of insurgents and killed three. They turned a corner and found a group of six more.
One of his partners was shot in the leg and in the head, though a helmet stopped the bullet.
Colbert “instantly exposed himself into the direct line of fire to pull his fellow special operator behind cover, saving his life,” the Army’s narrative says. That’s when he was shot in the leg.
Busic’s team helped by placing the pickup between Colbert’s position and the enemy’s. Busic rushed the attackers to give cover to Colbert as he helped the wounded sailor.
More troops followed, and soldiers managed to secure the breach.
The battle looked unreal.
“They’re wearing suicide vests, so a bullet striking a suicide vest is quite cinematic,” Colbert said.
The shootout wasn’t over when soldiers restored the base perimeter. The operators had to clear the airfield of Taliban fighters determined to kill U.S. soldiers or die trying.
They split into two teams and moved from position to position, checking the bodies.
Busic remembers walking past the fighter playing possum – the one who threw the grenade. Busic was just feet away when it exploded. Two more insurgents would detonate suicide vests in that mop-up period, according to the battle narratives.
It could have been worse. The narratives of the fighting credit the Lewis-McChord operators with saving hundreds of lives by blocking the intrusion before the insurgents could get deep into the base.
The soldiers enjoyed their moment Thursday with friends and family celebrating their safe return and the Army’s recognition of their actions. They took some dignified photos in front of flags, and some goofy ones, too.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to be there with any other guys,” Colbert said.