More than four years after thwarting a Taliban ambush in Gerani, Afghanistan, and helping to save his tactical team, Sgt. 1st Class John B. Melson was presented the Bronze Star Medal with "V" device for valor Friday at Fort Benning.
"It's humbling," Melson said after a 2 p.m. ceremony at the Ranger demonstration area on Hurley Hill. "It's a good feeling to be recognized for what took place that day. It was a combined effort."
The Bronze Star with valor is the fourth-highest individual military award presented by the U.S. Military. Melson, the recipient of three other Bronze Star Medals during six deployments, was recognized for his actions under fire in helping to repel an attack on May 4, 2009, from 250 Taliban fighters. At least 50 to 60 of the fighters were killed.
"This is an award that few
receive and no one seeks," said Lt. Gen. William E. Ingram Jr., the director of the Army National Guard.
Melson, 42, is assigned as a Ranger instructor at Fort Benning's Warrior Training Center at Camp Butler. He completed Ranger School at age 38, and he also attended Airborne, Air Assault Schools, the Military Mountaineering Course and the Combat Adviser Course.
Melson of Boston served three years in the Marines before he left in 1992. He had been a civilian for 10 years when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks struck America while he was in college.
"I watched it live in the cafeteria while in college," he said choking back emotions. "At the time, I knew something was wrong. I tried to enlist that same day. Later on that night, I found out that a childhood friend that I grew up playing hockey with was on the flight coming from Boston. It was something I had to do."
In March 2004, Melson joined the Massachusetts Army National Guard. Since enlisting, he has been deployed to the Sinai and multiple trips to Iraq and Afghanistan.
In May 2009, he was serving as a member of the a 10-man tactical training team when his soldiers and 13 Afghanistan National Police were ambushed. Manning a .50-caliber machine gun in a armored Humvee, Melson quickly identified and destroyed several Taliban positions while his vehicle was hit by machine gun fire and rocket propelled grenades from the front and rear.
During the fire fight, the driver of the Humvee lost control and plunged the vehicle off the road and into a canal. The Humvee was flipped on the driver's side, taking water as the battle raged.
Melson jumped from the vehicle under fire and started attaching two straps to free the vehicle. After several attempts to free the vehicle failed, Melson directed a second vehicle to assist in the recovery. He was determined not to leave the driver behind as he checked on the soldier while taking more gunfire.
The second vehicle was successful in helping to upright the overturned Humvee. Melson jumped inside the driver's seat under water and the vehicle was pulled back onto the road. He exposed himself again to gunfire to unhook the tow straps, but once that was accomplished, the .50-caliber was back in action. It gave the tactical team time to enter the vehicle and drive away.
"I'm thankful that my team and I shot straighter than the enemy did that day," Melson said. "As the ambush carried on, it intensified. I was concerned about the safety of my team an how badly we wanted to kill the enemy. We made it out. Pretty much all of us were OK."
Melson said the Taliban thought the team traveling with three Humvees and nine or 10 personnel was a soft target.
"During our tour there, we quickly changed their opinion of us as being a soft target," he said.
Melson, the father of two young children, said he still doesn't know how he has survived the fighting he has endured.
"I know I must have a guardian angel or God has a plan for me I just haven't figured out yet," he said. "For a lot of the fighting I have been in, it's almost unreal to still be here."