A Special Forces soldier who crawled 200 feet while being fired upon to save a wounded colleague, then led a group of besieged soldiers to safety, received the Army's second-highest award for valor Wednesday.
Master Sgt. Brendan O'Connor received the Distinguished Service Cross in a ceremony Wednesday at Fort Bragg for his actions in Afghanistan. The award is second in achievement only to the Medal of Honor.
"He made a conscious decision to do whatever it took to get to our wounded soldiers," said Maj. Sheffield Ford, the team's commander during the June 2006 battle in southern Afghanistan.
O'Connor, 47, doesn't believe he is a hero. He said that police officers and firefighters are courageous every day and that he was only completing his mission.
"I am being recognized for a moment of courage," said O'Connor, whose wife and four children attended the ceremony. "I firmly believe other soldiers in my place would have done the same thing."
With his Special Forces team surrounded by Taliban fighters, O'Connor volunteered to lead a relief force to rescue two wounded colleagues. He got to the edge of a field, but intense Taliban machine-gun fire made him turn back. After shedding his body armor so he could press himself flat in a ditch, he crawled the last 200 feet to the wounded soldiers.
Taliban fire was so close that it sheared off the blades of tall grass around the ditch as he crawled.
Finally reaching the two wounded soldiers, he stabilized them and led the relief force back to safety.
Admiral Eric T. Olson, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, and Lt. Gen. Robert W. Wagner, commanding general of the Army Special Operations Command, presented the award to O'Connor.
Olson, who recounted the battle in his speech, described O'Connor's actions as legendary.
"Master Sgt. O'Connor exemplifies the spirit and ethos of these warriors," Olson said. "We stand in quiet awe and in the deepest admiration."
Wednesday's ceremony marked only the second time the award has been presented to a soldier for actions in Afghanistan.
O'Connor is assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group. The unit is based at Fort Bragg, home to the Army's Special Operations Command and the 82nd Airborne Division.