Tag Archives: Special Forces

Green Beret killed by IED in Afghanistan

NCO Journal staff report

Staff Sgt. Matthew V. Thompson, 28, of Irvine, California, died Aug. 23, of wounds received from an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Thompson was assigned to A Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. Thompson was on his first deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. He had previously deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

“He was an exceptional Green Beret, a cherished teammate, and devoted husband. His service in Afghanistan and Iraq speak to his level of dedication, courage, and commitment to something greater than himself,” said Lt. Col. Kevin M. Trujillo, commander of Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan.

“The Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan will honor his memory and sacrifice and his passing is a tremendous loss to all who were blessed to know him,” Trujillo added.

Thompson enlisted in the U.S. Army in March 2011 as a Special Forces candidate. Upon completion of Army Basic Combat and Advanced Individual Training, Basic Airborne Course, Special Forces Assessment and Selection and the Special Forces Qualification Course, he reported to 1st Special Forces Group as a Special Forces medical sergeant in August 2014.

Thompson’s military education includes Basic Combat Training, the Basic Airborne Course, the Advanced Leader Course, the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape Course, the Special Forces Qualification Course and the Special Operations Combat Medic Course.

His wife of five years, Rachel Thompson, spoke to Milwaukee’s WTMJ-TV after his death, and said Thompson was with a joint U.S.-Afghan foot patrol clearing IEDs when he died.

Rachel Thompson said her husband lost his life doing what he loved.

“He had the time of his life,” she told WTMJ, calling her husband “fearless.”

Another U.S. Soldier was injured in the attack, as were six Afghan troops, according to the Army Times.

Thompson is the second U.S. combat death in Afghanistan this year. Sgt. 1st Class Matthew McClintock died in Helmand earlier this year.

About 700 U.S. troops are deployed in Helmand, and about 10,000 deployed to Afghanistan. Just before Thompson’s death, the Defense Department announced another 100 Soldiers would be sent to that country.

Thompson’s awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon (numeral 2), Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Basic Parachutist Badge and Special Forces Tab.

Thompson was posthumously awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star Medal with V device, and Purple Heart Medal.

— Lisa Ferdinando of Department of Defense News contributed to this report.

This Month in NCO History: May 2, 1968 — A daring rescue that risked everything

Staff Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez had a feeble grip on consciousness when he was pulled out of a rescue helicopter May 2, 1968.

He had just been through a harrowing six-hour firefight, and the danger wasn’t over. Benavidez arrived at his forward operating base just west of Loc Ninh, Vietnam, and was placed on the ground amid other bodies that had been retrieved from a battle just miles beyond the Cambodian border. His eyes were caked in blood and tightly shut. He couldn’t speak as his jaw had been dislodged by the butt of a North Vietnamese rifle. The rigors of combat left him exhausted and motionless. A doctor pronounced him dead.

Benavidez felt a body bag envelop him. The zipper began its raspy trek up his legs. He couldn’t get the doctor’s attention. A fellow Soldier who recognized Benavidez interrupted the doctor, imploring him to check for a heartbeat. The doctor placed his hand on the wounded Soldier’s chest. The slight pressure gurgled forth a bit of fortitude from Benavidez’s waning strength, and he uncorked what he later called “the luckiest shot” he ever took. He spit in the doctor’s face.

Benavidez was rushed into surgery immediately, his ordeal concluded. It was one that involved so many feats of gallantry that nearly 13 years later, before awarding Benavidez — who retired as a master sergeant —the nation’s highest military honor, President Ronald Reagan told White House reporters, “you are going to hear something you would not believe if it were a script.”

Benavidez’s astonishing saga began during his second tour in Vietnam. He was part of Detachment B-56, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, which began operations in the country in February 1965.

On that fateful March day, the 33-year-old Benavidez was in a church service when he heard frantic radio chatter from the front. When helicopters from the 240th Assault Helicopter Company returned to the FOB’s flight line, their pilots revealed the cause of the frenzied voices. A 12-man reconnaissance team of Green Berets were pinned down by up to 1,500 North Vietnamese infantry soldiers in dense jungle terrain. The enemy had successfully forced the helicopters to abandon an initial rescue effort.

Benavidez immediately acted. He grabbed as many medical supplies as he could and hopped on a helicopter to assist in another extraction attempt. The scene he surveyed from the air was grim — the entire team was wounded, most of them beyond the ability to fight. They were surrounded on all sides by enemy forces that occasionally shot at the chopper Benavidez was riding in. Benavidez directed the pilot to hover over a nearby clearing where he jumped 10 feet into a muggy thicket with the intention of recovering the men.

When he landed on the ground, according to his Medal of Honor citation, Benavidez sprinted 75 meters toward his fellow Soldiers’ position as small arms fire pierced the foliage around him. By the time he reached them, Benavidez was wounded in the leg, face and head. Despite his injuries, he took charge, repositioning the Soldiers and directing their fire to facilitate the landing of a rescue helicopter. Benavidez drew the helicopter in with smoke canisters. When it arrived, he carried and dragged half of the wounded team members to the aircraft. He then provided protective fire by running alongside the helicopter as it moved to pick up the remaining team members. With the enemy’s fire intensifying, he hurried to recover classified documents on the dead team leader.

When he reached the leader’s body, the citation states, Benavidez was severely wounded by enemy fire in the abdomen and grenade fragments in his back. At the same time, the helicopter pilot was mortally wounded, and his aircraft crashed. Although in critical condition because of his multiple wounds, Benavidez secured the classified documents and made his way back to the wreckage, where he pulled his fellow wounded Soldiers out of the overturned aircraft. He positioned the stunned survivors into a defensive perimeter. Under increasing enemy automatic weapons and grenade fire, he moved around the perimeter distributing water and ammunition to the weary men. With the beleaguered group facing a buildup of enemy opposition, Benavidez began calling in tactical air strikes and directed the fire from supporting gunships to suppress the enemy and allow another extraction attempt.

By the time another helicopter was able to land, Benavidez had been directing the fight non-stop for nearly six hours. But the battle still wasn’t finished. In fact, it moved closer. After ferrying one group of wounded Soldiers to the helicopter, Benavidez was returning for the others when he was clubbed from behind by an enemy soldier. In the ensuing hand-to-hand combat, Benavidez sustained bayonet wounds to his head and arms before killing his adversary. Enemy fire intensified as he continued carrying the wounded to safety. He killed two enemy soldiers who rushed the craft before returning a third time to the perimeter of the fallen helicopter to secure classified material and bring in the last of the wounded.

Benavidez mustered the last of his strength to board the helicopter, the last man to leave the battlefield. The aircraft was riddled with bullet holes, covered in blood and without any functioning instruments, but the pilot somehow lifted off. Benavidez lost consciousness as soon as it cleared the jungle canopy.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor on Feb. 24, 1981. According to his citation, his efforts “saved the lives of eight men. His fearless personal leadership, tenacious devotion to duty, and extremely valorous actions in the face of overwhelming odds were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflect the utmost credit on him and the United States Army.”

Benavidez was born in Lindenau near Cuero, Texas. He was orphaned at age 7 after his parents died from tuberculosis. Benavidez and his younger brother, Roger, were raised by a grandfather, uncle and aunt in El Campo, Texas.

He attended school sporadically before dropping out at age 15 to work full time to help support the family. Benavidez enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard in 1952 during the Korean War. In June 1955, he switched to active duty. He completed airborne training and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he eventually became a member of the 5th Special Forces Group. He was sent to Vietnam in 1965 as an advisor. During a patrol, he stepped on a land mine. Doctors told Benavidez he would never walk again. After a year in the hospital — and following an unsanctioned rehabilitation regimen — Benavidez walked out of the facility determined to return to Vietnam to help his fellow Soldiers.

Little did he know he would enter the annals of U.S. Army history.

In 1976, Benavidez retired with the rank of master sergeant. He returned to El Campo with his wife and their three children. He devoted his remaining years to the youth of America, speaking to them about the importance of getting an education. His message was simple: “An education is the key to success. Bad habits and bad company will ruin you.”

Benavidez died Nov. 29, 1998, at age 63. He was buried with full honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

— Compiled with Pablo Villa

Green Beret posthumously promoted to sergeant first class

NCO Journal report

Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock, who was killed earlier this month in Afghanistan, was posthumously promoted to sergeant first class, acting Secretary of the Army Patrick J. Murphy announced Wednesday.

Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock
Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock

The 30-year-old Special Forces engineer sergeant was from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and was a member of the Washington National Guard. He is survived by his wife, Alexandra, and their 3-month-old son, Declan.

In his statement, Murphy said that he had met with Alexandra and Declan McClintock. He said he “let them both know that their Army family will always be there for them — and that Declan would know that his Daddy is one of our Nation’s heroes.”

McClintock was killed by small-arms fire Jan. 5 in the Marjah district of Helmand province, according to the Department of Defense. Two other American troops and four Afghan soldiers were injured during the hours-long battle between coalition and Taliban forces.

Acting Secretary of the Army Patrick J. Murphy renders honors as a U.S. Army carry team moves the transfer case of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock during a dignified transfer Jan. 8 at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware. McClintock, 30, of Albuquerque, N.M., was assigned to 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, in Buckley, Wash. Murphy announced Wednesday that McClintock was posthumously promoted. (U.S. Army photo by John G. Martinez)
Acting Secretary of the Army Patrick J. Murphy renders honors as a U.S. Army carry team moves the transfer case of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock during a dignified transfer Jan. 8 at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware. McClintock, 30, of Albuquerque, N.M., was assigned to 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, in Buckley, Wash. Murphy announced Wednesday that McClintock was posthumously promoted. (Department of Defense photo by John G. Martinez)

Alexandra McClintock told the Army Times that her husband’s teammates told her that he abandoned his cover to find a landing zone so a helicopter could land and evacuate a wounded teammate.

“He ran out without even thinking about himself,” she told the newspaper. “When he got to really do his job and do the job he loved, he came home a happy man.”

McClintock and his fellow Green Berets, from 1st Battalion’s A Company, deployed to Afghanistan in July, according to information from the Washington Army National Guard.

McClintock joined the Army in 2006. After completing his training, McClintock was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division, deploying to Iraq in 2007. He was chosen for selection in the U.S. Army Special Forces School in May 2009, according to information from the Guard.

He was assigned to 1st Special Forces Group, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, in November 2010. He deployed to Afghanistan from August 2012 to May 2013. McClintock left active-duty in December 2014 and was assigned to 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, which is part of the Washington Guard.

His wife told the Army Times that McClintock had begun the process to return to active duty.

“Staff Sergeant McClintock was one of the best of the best,” Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, commander of the Washington Guard, said in a statement shortly after McClintock’s death. “He was a Green Beret who sacrificed time away from his loved ones to train for and carry out these dangerous missions. This is a tough loss for our organization.”

Parents of Green Beret killed in action will attend State of the Union tonight

President Barack Obama works on the State of the Union address Jan. 11 in the Oval Office with Director of Speechwriting Cody Keenan and Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, in the Oval Office Jan. 11, 2016. (Photo courtesy of White House)

NCO Journal report

When President Barack Obama delivers his final State of the Union address at 9 Eastern tonight, the parents of slain U.S. Army Special Forces 1st Sgt. P. Andrew McKenna Jr. will be in the House chamber to hear it.

Carol and Peter McKenna will be guests of U.S. Rep. David N. Cicilline, D-Rhode Island. Their son was killed Aug. 7 in Afghanistan during a gun battle that followed a suicide bombing, the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal reported. He was credited with saving lives while defending the base, the newspaper reported.

“We are honored to be attending the State of the Union … as Congressman Cicilline’s guests,” the McKennas, who live in Bristol, Rhode Island, said in a news release from Cicilline’s office. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

First Sgt. McKenna was killed during an attack by the Taliban on Camp Integrity, a NATO facility in Kabul.

The Green Beret first joined the military one month after graduating Mount Hope High School in Bristol in 1998. Over 17 years of active service, he completed five tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq and was decorated with numerous awards, including the Bronze Star with V device and the Meritorious Service Medal. McKenna graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in strategic studies from Norwich University in 2015. He was planning to pursue a master’s degree once his deployment ended in October.

One month before his death, 1st Sgt. McKenna returned home to the East Bay, where he was recognized during the Bristol Fourth of July Parade. In the release, Cicilline, who attended the parade and thanked McKenna for his service, said, “Andrew McKenna was a true hero who embodied the very best of Rhode Island values. His patriotism, loyalty, and sense of shared purpose were reflections of his strong character and the values he learned growing up in Bristol. I am deeply honored that his parents, Carol and Peter, will join me [at] the State of the Union.”

Members of Congress receive one ticket for a guest to attend the State of the Union. U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minnesota, donated his ticket so both of 1st Sgt. McKenna’s parents could attend.

Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient dies

By J.D. LEIPOLD
Army News Service

Medal of Honor recipient, Vietnam prisoner of war and Special Forces legend Sgt. Maj. Jon R. Cavaiani lost his long battle with a bone marrow disorder July 29, passing away at 70 years old, in Stanford, California.

Cavaiani received the Medal of Honor in 1974, from President Gerald Ford for his actions in trying to fight off an overpowering number of enemy forces who had attacked his security platoon camp within enemy-held territory, on June 4-5, 1971.

With complete disregard for himself, the then-staff sergeant moved around the camp perimeter directing fire and rallying the outgunned and outnumbered platoon in a desperate fight for survival. He also used a variety of weapons to return suppressive fire. When t

Medal of Honor recipient Jon R. Cavaiani (left), speaks with a U.S. Marine at a gathering, in 2004. (Photo by Rudi Williams)
Medal of Honor recipient Jon R. Cavaiani (left), speaks with a U.S. Marine at a gathering, in 2004. (Photo by Rudi Williams)

he platoon was to be evacuated, Cavaiani voluntarily remained to direct three helicopters in to evacuate a major part of the platoon.

The remainder of his Special Forces platoon was forced to stay in camp overnight, expecting to be evacuated the next morning. On the morning of June 5, due to low, heavy ground fog, the helicopters were unable to retrieve the remainder of the platoon.

The superior enemy force launched a major ground attack in an attempt to annihilate the remaining Soldiers. As they advanced in two ranks, firing a heavy volume of small arms automatic weapons, throwing hand grenades and firing rocket-propelled grenades. The 27-year-old Cavaiani ordered the remaining platoon members to escape, then tried to hold off the enemy with grenades and a machine gun which he swept back and forth along the two ranks.

Cavaiani played dead as the North Vietnamese took what was nicknamed Hickory Hill, and then hid in the jungle for nearly two weeks before he was captured. He suffered more than 100 shrapnel wounds and bullet holes. Cavaiani spent nearly two years as a POW in solitary confinement for the remainder of the war. He was repatriated to the U.S. in April 1973 and continued to serve most of his 21-year career training Special Forces Soldiers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Born in Royston, England, in 1943, as Jon Robert Lemmons, to an American and an English woman, he and his mother ventured west in the early 1950s, settling in the tiny farming community of Ballico, California. He took his stepfather’s surname after being adopted, according to a Washington Post article.

Shortly after becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, in 1969, Cavaiani tried to enlist, but was considered unfit, known as 4F at the time, due to a severe allergy to bee stings. Later he persuaded an Army doctor to find him fit for duty. After more than 20 years of service, he retired in 1990, as a sergeant major.

After he left the Army, Cavaiani attended culinary school and became a farmer, settling with wife Barbara in Columbia, California. He was inducted into the Special Forces Hall of Fame, in 2011.

Cavaiani wasn’t one to draw attention to himself by wearing the Medal of Honor in uniform, according to media sources. One Special Forces Soldier served with Cavaiani for more than a year before finding out his NCO held the highest military medal for valor.

When he asked the sergeant major what the story was on the medal, a humble Cavaiani answered simply with, “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

However, Cavaiani did draw attention to the Soldiers he had fought with; the ones who didn’t return from Southeast Asia. In 2011, Cavaiani and two battle buddies returned to Vietnam, 40 years after the battle in search of the remains of Sgt. John R. Jones, whose body had never been recovered. His remains were found and Jones was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, in 2012.

Cavaiani will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery, though a date has not yet been announced.