The battlefield is an unforgiving place. Death stalks it with swift and violent intent and those who are there, poised on that thin edge between life and death, success and failure, must respond with clarity of mind, confidence of spirit and with equal measures of skill and violence.
Every warrior who has been there knows that heroism is common, yet there are some whose courage and skills rise above. This story is about one of those whose valor was both clearly recognized and stunningly important to the survival of his battle brothers.
On May 30. 2004, Sgt. 1st Class Stephan Johns, a Special Forces sniper with Detachment Alpha 334, was on the last helicopter in a formation of Special Forces helicopters delivering troops on a mission against al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in a particularly dangerous valley in Afghanistan. His job was to provide sniper fire support from the air for the Special Forces on the ground during the attack.
Johns’ helicopter was hit by enemy ground fire and had to land briefly in enemy held territory. Johns was not about to abandon his mission. Without concern for his own safety, he jumped out of the temporarily grounded helicopter. He quickly established a one-man defensive position and continued to lay down extremely accurate rifle fire against the enemy in support of his brothers.
Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters made several attempts to rush his position to take him out. But Johns, with meticulous accuracy and relentless determination, took out 9 of those enemy fighters. He was alone on the ground in enemy-held space for about 30 minutes, keeping up his intense and precise volleys of rifle fire until another helicopter was able to come in and pick him up.
Johns’ actions that day saved lives and helped turn the tide of the battle. He was awarded a Silver Star in 2005 at MacDill AFB, Florida, where Special Operations Command is located. The award was given to him by then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney.
Cheney said of the Special Operations Command: “I see regular evidence of your unparalleled skill, your ingenuity, your daring. Every single day SOCOM confirms its reputation as a small command that produces big results for the United States of America.”
Johns served in the United States Army for a total of 30 years. 25 of those years were in the Special Forces.
The Veterans Site honors the heroism and dedication to duty that Sgt. 1st Class Stephan Johns demonstrated on that battlefield alone, separated from the rest of his own forces, yet still providing covering sniper fire for them, while defending his own solitary position. Your uncompromising valor in service to your brothers in battle is a model for all of us. Your service for 30 years honors us all and especially the Special Forces motto: De Oppresso Liber, To Free The Oppressed. Hooah!
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.