Wednesday, August 22, 2012

TFH 8/22: Staff Sergeant Erich R. Phillips, USA

The United States Army's 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team is a rapid reaction force forward deployed as part of United States Army Europe. The "Sky Soldiers" (as they're nicknamed) are a storied unit within our Army, having fought with distinction during the Vietnam War. The brigade was deactivated following Vietnam in 1972.

The Army reactivated the Sky Soldiers on October 16, 2000. Over the next several years, the brigade gained its men and equipment, reaching "initial operating capacity" (i.e. full strength) on March 14, 2003. Just twelve days later on March 26, 2003, the 173d would jump into combat in northern Iraq. They served and fought there until February 21, 2004. In addition to their service in Iraq, the brigade has also completed three tours in Afghanistan (2005-6, 2007-8, and 2009-10).

In an infantry company, the mortar platoon provides key firepower to the company commander and his soldiers. The M224 60mm lightweight mortar weighs 47 pounds with all its pieces and parts, not including any ammunition. Our brave soldiers and Marines often have to carry them into battle. Company mortars are often emplaced centrally where they can support the entire unit with fires. As such, they may not have supporting units nearby with only the mortarmen themselves to provide security and protection.

During the 173d's second Afghanistan combat tour on August 22, 2007 - five years ago to the day - the mortarmen of "Chosen" Company (C) of the 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment found themselves under a pre-dawn attack from a numerically superior enemy.

Staff Sergeant Erich R. Phillips was the mortar platoon sergeant. The 23 year-old soldier - already on his fourth deployment to southwest Asia - was sleeping at the time of the attack but quickly leapt into action, rallying the 22 Americans as they were assaulted by as many as 80 Taliban combatants. For his valor, he ultimately received the Distinguished Service Cross - the Army's second-highest award.

From Military Times' Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918 (amended by act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Staff Sergeant Erich R. Phillips, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in action while serving as Mortar Platoon Sergeant with Company C, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment, 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team, in action at Ranch House in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, on 22 August 2007. Staff Sergeant Phillips' gallant actions and dedicated devotion to duty, without regard for his own life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army. NARRATIVE TO ACCOMPANY AWARD: On 22 August 2007, at 0455L, the Ranch House Outpost at Aranas, Afghanistan, was attacked from all sides by a company-sized insurgent force, simultaneously engaging every post in the perimeter by multiple RPGs and small arms fire. Staff Sergeant Phillips was serving as the Mortar Platoon Sergeant with Company C, 2d Battalion, 503d Infantry Regiment (Airborne), 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team. On that morning he woke up to the sound of intense small arms fire and RPG explosions. When he moved outside of his quarters he came under effective small arms fire and saw Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan Security Guard (ASG) forces fleeing from their post, which had swiftly been overrun by the insurgents. Staff Sergeant Phillips expertly positioned five soldiers, Private First Class White, Specialist Baldwin, Specialist Chavez, Sergeant Dirkinitis, and Special Schilling to defend the TOC, Aid Station, Mortar Pit and ASP, and led the way by returning fire on a quickly advancing enemy force from the vicinity of the ANA and ASG post while under intense RPG and small arms fire. He moved quickly to the TOC and reported directly to his Platoon Leader, First Lieutenant Ferrara, who told him that there was no communication with Post 3 and Post 4. Staff Sergeant Phillips returned to the mortar firing point to employ the 60-mm. mortars while staying in contact with Post 1, whose element continued to engage the overwhelming enemy assault with hand grenades and direct fire. With the insurgents within 15 meters of his position Staff Sergeant Phillips directed fires and hand grenades to suppress the enemy and protect the Platoon Leader, First Lieutenant Ferrara, who was talking to the company from his Platoon Command Post after the TOC had suffered several direct hits with RPGs rendering the antennas inoperable. Staff Sergeant Phillips' actions were essential in securing First Lieutenant Ferrara's position allowing the platoon leader to control indirect fire and CAS to thwart the enemy attack. When he learned that there were casualties at Post 2, Staff Sergeant Phillips took Sergeant Dirkinitis, the Platoon Medic, and assaulted upwards, 30 meters towards Post 2. Recognizing that Post 2 risked being isolated from the rest of the U.S. element he directed his team to give covering fire as he moved up the hill. As they moved Staff Sergeant Phillips and Sergeant Dirkinitis were pinned down by insurgents firing from the high ground near Post 3 and from behind the Class 1 shed 15 meters away. Soldiers at Post 2 told Staff Sergeant Phillips that there were multiple enemy personnel behind the Class 1 shed which was about 10 meters behind him. While under intense enemy fire he ran to a position from which he could throw multiple hand grenades to deter an enemy advance and continued to fire upon enemy positions. His decision to move toward Post 2 spread out the friendly line and was instrumental in preventing the enemy from overrunning the mortar pit and the Platoon Command Post as well as Post 2. As Staff Sergeant Phillips and Sergeant Dirkinitis continued to fight, Sergeant Dirkinitis was struck in the shoulder by a bullet. Staff Sergeant Phillips pulled him to cover while firing on the enemy. He recognized that he had to move to another position to save the wounded medic. He told Post 2 to provide covering fire while he dragged Sergeant Dirkinitis 15 meters back down the hill to a defilade position so he could be treated. Staff Sergeant Phillips then moved back to the mortar pit and directed Specialist Chavez to treat the casualty. At this point, First Lieutenant Ferrara had called in A-10s to strafe the enemy occupied ASG and ANA posts. As the insurgents' fire became sporadic, Staff Sergeant Phillips assembled a team to clear the Ranch House perimeter and recover Private First Class Deloria who had been isolated at Post 3. He lead the team up the hill and pulled Private First Class Deloria from beneath the rubble of the shattered Post 3. Staff Sergeant Phillips continued to organize the MEDEVAC of the casualties from Post 3 (Private First Class Deloria) and Post 2 (Sergeant Gonzalez, Sergeant Relph, Specialist Bell, and Private First Class Langevin) and moved them down the hill to the LZ to be evacuated. Through his quick thinking and total disregard for his own safety, Staff Sergeant Phillips prevented the Ranch House Outpost from being overrun by an enemy force three times larger and with superior fire power. His quick reaction in employing all available soldiers protected the Platoon CP from being overrun allowing external assets to be employed to defeat the enemy. He quickly assaulted toward Post 2 spreading out the friendly lines and directed lethal blows against the enemy halting their advance 10 meters short of the U.S. line. Absent this assault the enemy would have been able to maneuver in between the U.S. forces, isolating Post 2 from the mortar pit and breaking up the U.S. line of fire. Finally, he assembled an ad hoc force to clear the perimeter and recover the severely wounded Private First Class Deloria, who had been cut off for over 2 hours. His actions at Ranch House yielded invaluable intelligence with the death of MVT Hazrat Omar including enemy video tapes of attack plans, pictures of insurgents, and payroll documents utilized by ACM commanders. During the fierce three-hour battle at the Ranch House eleven U.S. soldiers, half of the U.S. garrison, were wounded. One ANA and one ASG Soldier were killed and one ASG Soldier was wounded. Eight insurgents were killed and a dozen more were wounded.

Phillips later received the Silver Star for an additional act of valor on July 13, 2008 (details unavailable). He is also a recipient of the Purple Heart for wounds received in combat. According to the news reports cited and linked above, Phillips left the 173d ABCT after September 16, 2008 to join the Rangers as an instructor. It appears that he has now left the Army and has returned to civilian life.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.