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[COMMENT: These stories of American soldiers who put their
human kindness above, or at least equal with, their military duty keep popping
up. God bless them! E. Fox]
Date: Sunday, May 21, 2006 11:42 AM
Sgt. Sar's Silver Star
One man's journey from Cambodia to America to Afghanistan--where he became a
BY RALPH KINNEY BENNETT
Wednesday, May 10, 2006 12:01 a.m.
The sound of the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters
echoed off the rugged, snowy ridges, almost 9,000 feet up in the mountains
of eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border. In the dim first light of
dawn, the men of U.S. Army Special Forces detachment Alpha 732 were scanning
the fog-bound boulders and trees, searching for Taliban fighters.
They spotted a tiny village of earth and stone huts strung out along the top
of a ridge. Something didn't look right about the peaceful scene that early
morning, March 2, 2005. The Blackhawks touched down, one on either side of
the ridge, less than 100 yards below the huts. Six men jumped out of the
chopper on the north side of the ridge, and as it flew away they came under
intense automatic weapons fire from the village. Returning fire, they sought
cover amid rocks and trees in the knee-deep snow.
As the other copter had touched down on the south side of the ridge, Master
Sgt. Sarun Sar heard the heavy fire and spotted Taliban fighters around the
huts above him. The sudden arrival of the 12-man Alpha 732 team by air had
surprised the enemy. But the advantage of surprise was evaporating fast in a
hail of fire.
In seconds, Sgt. Sar, a veteran of many combat operations over the past 15
years, grasped that if that fire from the high ground was not quickly
suppressed, the Blackhawks could be damaged or destroyed if they tried to
land again and his small detachment could be pinned down in this remote
Sgt. Sar, Cambodian-born, with a ready smile and a gentle demeanor that
belies his toughness, reacted immediately. He charged toward the huts and
the scattered muzzle flashes of the Taliban weapons, lifting his knees high
to negotiate the deep snow as he ran uphill. He could hear bullets whizzing
Sgt. Sar had his M-4 carbine set on semiautomatic, choosing his single shots
carefully. He knew the area from many patrols. He didn't want to hit any of
the civilians whose confidence he and his men had worked so long and so hard
The 15 to 20 Taliban fighters, who had pinned down the Americans on the
north side of the ridge, seemed stunned by the swift, furious charge of the
short, wiry, helmeted figure rushing up the ridge from the south. Taliban
began to fall, hit by Sgt. Sar's well-aimed shots.
Now he was almost to the huts. Those Taliban who had not been killed broke
and ran for the nearby woods. One turned to fire at the onrushing sergeant
but was killed. Another, carrying an AK-47 assault rifle, disappeared into
one of the huts.
Only then did Sgt. Sar realize that he was alone. His men, who had exited
the Blackhawk after him, had been temporarily pinned down. They were far
behind him, still working their way up the snowy hill. Keeping his eye on
the doorway of the occupied hut, he called on his radio for help. Within
minutes the team's medic was beside him.
The door to the windowless hut was partly open. Sgt. Sar could see only
darkness inside. He had a flashlight mounted on the barrel of his M-4.
Deciding to "keep the momentum," he barreled through the small, low opening,
gun to the front. But the heavy load of patrol gear he was carrying caught
on the sides of the small doorway.
It was a moment that will ever be frozen in his memory. Sgt. Sar was halfway
into the darkened hut, the flashlight on his M-4 illuminating the face of a
Taliban fighter, and the muzzle of his AK-47 pointed directly at Sgt. Sar's
head. The Taliban fired a short burst, three shots. Sgt. Sar felt the muzzle
blast as it lit up the darkness.
Miraculously, two of the bullets missed him. But one struck the lower edge
of his Kevlar helmet right at his forehead. It felt like a hammer blow on
his skull. "I'm hit, I'm hit," he screamed, falling back out of the doorway.
He quickly recovered, realizing the bullet had only grazed him. Sgt. Sar and
the medic pressed the attack, tossing a grenade into the hut before he
re-entered it and killed the man who had almost killed him.
Within minutes, thanks to Sgt. Sar's fearless initiative, the Taliban ambush
that placed the men of Alpha 732 in mortal danger had been smashed. The
Americans cleared all the huts in the village, treated two civilians who had
been slightly wounded, and rounded up a huge cache of enemy
weaponry--rocket-propelled grenades and grenade launchers, a radio, a mortar
and shells, bomb-making materials and explosives, and a slew of AK-47
assault rifles. The wounded villagers were flown to a military hospital.
Ten months later, home from Afghanistan at Hawaii's Camp H.M. Smith, Sgt.
Sar stood at attention as he received the Silver Star, the nation's
fourth-highest award for valor in combat. He was a reluctant recipient. He
felt that what he had done that day in Afghanistan was "just my duty as a
soldier, protecting my guys like they protect me."
As to his many missions in harm's way--in the Gulf War, in Bosnia and
Kosovo, and through two combat tours in Afghanistan--he says quietly that
"it's a small price to pay for this country that I love more than my
birthplace, this country that has given me so much."
Indeed, few at the awards ceremony could have known what a journey Sarun Sar
had made to pay that "small price." Born in Cambodia in 1966, he had led an
idyllic boyhood even as the clouds of war gathered over Southeast Asia. His
father was a schoolteacher, and his mother looked after their home on a
large rice farm with his brothers and sisters.
Then war blew his boyhood apart. The communist Khmer Rouge insurgency of the
ruthless Pol Pot overthrew the Cambodian government and began the period of
the "killing fields," an orgy of executions and enforced starvation that
took the lives of more than a million Cambodians who refused to be
Sarun Sar's father was arrested and sent to a prison camp. He eventually
died of ailments resulting from his imprisonment. One of Sarun's brothers
was executed. His mother and two younger brothers, dispossessed of their
farm and hiding in fear of the communists, eventually died a cruel death by
Sarun and his older sister ended up in a refugee camp along the
Thailand-Cambodia border. Under the sponsorship of a church in Montgomery
County, Md., Sarun and his sister received visas and came to the U.S. in
1981. His older sister eventually moved to California. Sarun lived with an
American family in Maryland until he could finish high school (where he
joined the wrestling and track teams).
He felt strongly that he should serve his adopted country. He joined the
Army in 1985, one year after graduating from high school. The next year he
proudly became an American citizen. While stationed as an infantryman at
Fort Benning, Ga., he says, "I was mentored by a sergeant who urged me to
consider joining Special Forces."
He did. He also qualified as an Army Ranger, winning honors in his class.
Then, between deployments all over the world, he earned a bachelor's degree
in American history at Campbell University, in North Carolina. While
stationed in Germany, he met and eventually married a Polish girl,
Dobromila. Now living in Hawaii, they are currently enjoying the fact that
he is "home" from the latest of his many foreign assignments.
With his boyish face and quiet voice, Sgt. Sar hardly seems the combat
veteran who has earned the respect of the "toughest of the tough," his
Special Forces peers. He prefers not to dwell on the many days and nights of
patrols and firefights in Afghanistan. He tries to steer "war stories"
toward the countless acts of humanitarian work he and his team did in
Afghanistan to gain the trust of the people in the countryside. "When I went
there, we were engaged in as many as six or seven attacks each day. By the
time we left, they were about one a month."
Sgt. Sar feels the American public has heard only about the fighting in the
war against terrorism and not enough about the work to achieve peace. "They
should be proud of what their soldiers have done to overcome fear and win
the hearts of these people." He chuckles when he recalls that when he first
arrived in Afghanistan "the people didn't talk to me. Towards the end they
wanted me to marry one of their daughters so I could stay a little longer."
Mr. Bennett writes the "American Heroes" series for the American Security
Council Foundation <http://www.ascfusa.org/> .
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