Selma native decorated for valor

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 16, 2006

Special to the Times-Journal

A former native of Selma was recently awarded two of the Army’s top combat medals, a few months after he was injured while leading fellow soldiers during a direct action raid against known terrorists in Tal Afar, Iraq. Staff Sergeant David M. Edwards, Jr. an Army Ranger squad leader, received the Silver Star and Purple Heart for “displaying outstanding leadership, dedication to duty, and commitment to excellence,” according to a release from the U.S. Army. Army Chief of Staff, General Peter J. Schoomaker presented Army Rangers more than 25 awards for valor during a ceremony at Fort Benning, Georgia on November 18. The soldiers, all assigned to 3′ Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, deployed between July and October in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. “I am proud to be here to recognize great heroes,” said Schoomaker. “I’m proud of your service. I am proud of what you do and what you represent. You are living the Ranger Creed and Warrior Ethos.”

Edwards’s, 26, was among three Ranger teams on assignment to hunt down terrorist hideouts early on the morning of Sept 4. He describes his mission to David Ferrara, Staff Reporter for the Mobile Press Register, which starts with gunfire at one home and ends with blood-soaked grenade explosions at a third.

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First, Edwards said, “We went into the house of known terrorists in Tal Afar. We had hit up an apartment building and ended up killing several bad guys there.”

At another apartment building an enemy tried to run when he saw the Rangers, Edwards said. The chase went, “rooftop to rooftop, but we had snipers on the roof and we engaged and killed that guy and his body guard.”

That was before most people awoke, but Edwards said he was injured later that morning when three Ranger teams, along with a crew of medics, were outside the door of another home of a known terrorist. “The bad guys happened to be awake,” Edwards said. “They heard us coming down the street.” An enemy inside the house dropped a grenade and four Rangers were immediately wounded “really bad,” he said. Before a second team could enter the house, Edwards stormed in and “led my squad and miraculously didn’t get shot.”

“All this,” he points out, “is taking place in a matter of seconds.” Suddenly a grenade exploded and the shrapnel broke Edwards’ right wrist. Two of his men also were injured. Gunfire erupted from an AK-47.

“I got up and grabbed my arm,” he said. “It was kind of warm and numb feeling. I grabbed my gun to keep fighting and as I’m standing there, here comes a grenade, rolling toward the door.” He dove atop the wounded men “to protect them and get myself a little bit farther away from the glass,” he said. A medic bandaged up his bloody arm, and he returned with his M-4 carbine assault rifle, killed three enemies and led his fellow wounded Rangers to safety.

“All of that right there alone was less than four minutes,” he said of the final firefight.

Edwards’s citation reads in part, “When the first four assaulters through the breach suffered severe wounds from a grenade throughout their lower bodies, SSG Edwards entered the breach without hesitation and directed immediate aid to the wounded Rangers. SSG Edwards then pushed past the casualties with his squad and proceeded to clear the building. He continued to push his squad towards the enemy while receiving heavy grenade and small arms fire. Even though wounded himself, he kept driving his squad through the objective in order to clear it. With complete disregard for his own safety, SSG Edwards was the number-one man into multiple rooms that were suspected of being held by the enemy… (he was) wounded a second time, as he dove to shield a wounded Ranger from an enemy grenade. With the threat eliminated, he realized how badly his right arm was bleeding, SSG Edwards made his way outside to seek medical attention. While receiving treatment …. he rearranged security for the wounded and returned to the fight. Throughout the battle, 550 Edwards’ tremendous leadership and personal valor proved critical to mission success and to the survival of wounded Rangers. SSG Edwards’ accomplishments reflect great credit upon himself, this Command, and the United States Army.”

The Silver Star is awarded to those who show “gallantry in action,” and must have been performed “with marked distinction.” It is the third highest military award; designated solely for heroism in combat. Established in 1918 as the Citation Star, in 1932 it was re-designated as a separate medal. The Purple Heart is awarded, in the name of the President, to those wounded in battle against an enemy of the United States.

To become a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment, Edwards said he has endured months of physical training in mountains and swamps, developing skills such as marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat techniques, and parachute training. While the military training may have sharpened his focus on the task, he still gets a little nervous going into battle, he said. “You talk about tensed up; I don’t care who you are, you’d be seared a little bit,” Edwards said.

Edwards, who has about nine years of military service joined the army after graduating from high school and spending time at Marion Military Institute in Marion, Alabama. He is the son of Lieutenant Colonel Mike Edwards of Centreville, and the brother of Robert Edwards, an Army private stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He is the grandson of David and Betty Edwards of Selma and Agnes Clark of Brent.

Among his honors, Edwards counts 15 different awards, including four Army Commendation Medals, four Army Achievement Medals, three Good Conduct Medals, and medals for the Global War on Terror. He’s been through several similar missions, including high-profile rescues that he is not at liberty to discuss and recently signed up for four more years of service. He has served four tours in Iraq and also spent about six months in Afghanistan, he said.

“These men represent extraordinary heroism. They fought for each other, their families, and to get the mission done,” said Lieutenant Colonel John 0. Castles, Commander, 3″‘ Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. “Their actions are representative of others on this field today.”