Special Forces NCO receives Medal of Honor for heroics in Afghanistan

President Donald J. Trump presented the Medal of Honor to Master Sgt. Matthew Williams Wednesday, for his actions in Shok Valley that saved the lives of his fellow Soldiers and commandos.

Sgt. Williams is the second member of his detachment to receive the Medal of Honor for the same operation. Former-Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer II, the team’s medic, was recognized for his lifesaving actions Oct. 1, 2018.

“The battle of Shok Valley is a testament to the overwhelming strength, lethal skill, and unstoppable might of the United States Army Special Forces and all of our military,” Trump said.

Then-Sgt. Williams served as a weapons sergeant with Operational Detachment Alpha 3336, Special Operations Task Force 11, Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, during the operation on April 6, 2008.

On that day, Williams joined other U.S Soldiers and Afghan commandos as a member of the rear-assault element. Credible intelligence had led the team to the valley in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, where they dropped in by helicopter and quickly moved toward their objective.

“When the first Americans reached the edge of the valley, at the base of a 100-foot mountain, a handful of Special Forces scouted ahead,” Trump said. “The lead group was 60 feet up the slope when roughly 200 insurgents savagely attacked. It was a big surprise — a very unwelcome surprise.”

Calls from the first element started coming in — they had sustained several casualties and were pinned down at a higher elevation. Shurer and Master Sgt. Scott Ford joined Sgt. Williams as he organized his Afghan commando force and led a counterassault against the enemy, Trump said.

Eventually, the weapons sergeant and his team made their way to the base of the mountain with three wounded Soldiers. He and the Afghan commandos continued to provide a counterattack, as the enemy tried to overrun their casualty collection point.

As medical evacuation helicopters arrived, Williams risked his own life to help move the casualties. Through it all, he continued to direct commando fires, which enabled the safe evacuation of the wounded and dead.

“[Williams’s] incredible heroism helped ensure that not a single American soldier died in the battle of Shok Valley,” Trump said.

Then-Sgt. Matthew Williams with Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer II assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), sit outside a small village in Eastern Afghanistan in May 2008. (Courtesy photograph)

“His ground commander later wrote, ‘I’ve never seen a troop so poised, focused, and capable during a fight in matters without question and reservation. [He is] one of the bravest soldiers and people I’ve ever met,” Trump added.

During the White House ceremony, Matt was accompanied by his wife Kate, his father Michael, mother Janet, brother Cody and sister Amy.

“Each of you has strengthened our nation through your steadfast love and support, and we want to thank you,” Trump said.

“They have a young son, Nolan, who will turn 3 next week,” the president said. “In the years to come, Nolan will learn that his father stands among the ranks of our nation’s greatest heroes.”

Many of Williams’ teammates were able to attend the White House ceremony, to include: Shurer, Luis Morales, Karl Wurzbach, Seth Howard, David Sanders, John Walding, Dillon Behr, and Ryan Wallen. Two Afghan translators that helped support the ODA’s mission were also at the event.

“For more than a decade, Matt has stared down our enemies, fought back the forces of terror, and exemplified the virtue and gallantry of the American warrior,” Trump said. “He has completed five tours in Afghanistan, a deployment in Africa, and he continues to serve our country on active duty today.”

Battle brothers
The Medal of Honor is more than just one person, Sgt. Williams said during a media event Oct. 30. The medal represents a story of teamwork, trust and brotherhood, and how the team never chose to quit during the operation.

Williams joined ODA 3336 shortly after graduating from the Special Forces Qualification Course — just weeks before the detachment’s scheduled deployment, said retired Master Sgt. Scott Ford, who also attended the White House ceremony.

“He missed a huge part of our train up,” said Ford, the detachment’s former team sergeant. “Training for him started in combat. Being one of the youngest members within the detachment, I gave him as much responsibility as I would for my most senior members, early on. I recognized his potential and maturity as a leader.”

Sgt. Williams was “always trying to find work,” Lt. Col. Kyle Walton recalled. Then-Capt. Walton served as the commander during the Shok Valley operation. He was also at the White House ceremony to show his support.

“When Matt completed one task, he showed right back up — all of it under fire, and all of it under extreme physical stress with enemy activity around us,” Walton said.

“We had approximately 70 close airstrikes, to include one right on top of our position,” Walton said. “And through the clouds and the dust, Matt would reappear looking for more work. His actions demonstrated that ‘refusal to quit.’ Traits we look for in our Green Berets.”

Through the near-seven-hour operation, Williams always found a way to move safely around the battlespace, Shurer said. His actions helped save the lives of four critically wounded Soldiers.

Ford was one of the Soldiers injured during the operation. He was initially knocked to the ground after a sniper round made contact with his chest plate. Another sniper bullet penetrated through his left arm moments later.

“Everyone else was either hit … or wounded by enemy fire,” Walton said, explaining the severity of the situation.

With a tourniquet applied to his injured limb, Ford said he was determined to move down the mountain without assistance, but Sgt. Williams was there to provide support.

“Matt was the one that came to me and said, ‘Hey, you’re going to need help getting down the mountain.’ I didn’t even realize how much my balance would be off.” Ford said. “I just didn’t want to take another gun out of the fight at that moment.”

Through a barrage of fire, Williams grabbed Ford and assisted him down the mountain and handed him off to then-Staff Sgt. Seth Howard for support.

“We trained hard to be ready for that day,” Ford said. “We had to react to the situation as it developed. There was no option to give up. It took everybody stepping up at another level.”

The joint force was responsible for taking out more than 200 insurgents during the battle. However, at the end of the day, “the enemy gets a say, and they chose to fight hard that day,” Walton said.

“I think a lesson learned… is that our Soldiers will never quit, and they will never leave someone behind,” Walton said.

“These awards … demonstrate the kind of quality of guys that we have, and the values of the American Soldier,” he added. “ODA 3336 is still out there right now, and they are doing missions on behalf of the nation. Missions everyone would be proud of if they knew what they were doing right now.”

More Stories