JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Master Sgt. Suran Sar described yesterday the bullet that pierced his helmet, shown in his left hand.
Silver Star recipient feels deep humility
The soldier is called a hero by superiors
An Army Special Forces soldier who lost most of his family to the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia has been awarded the Silver Star for heroism yesterday for saving his men during a firefight in Afghanistan.
But despite attempts by his superiors and fellow soldiers to tag him as a hero at a Camp Smith ceremony yesterday, Master Sgt. Suran Sar expressed concerns about receiving the medal for only doing his job, and praised a fellow soldier who was also an immigrant to America and was killed doing his job.
"I feel kind of shame to receive this prestigious award. All I was doing was something I love to do ... it's fighting and serving my country," said Sar, who feels he found a "second home" in the Army's elite Special Forces unit after losing everyone but a sister during the bloody reign of Pol Pott.
"In the soldier's code, a leader is supposed to look after the welfare of your men. Those guys (insurgents) were shooting at my guys and I am there looking after them," said Sar, who enlisted in the Army in 1985 and became a U.S. citizen a year later.
"I don't see myself as the hero," Sar, 39, said. "The hero is my guy in the cemetery right now. He deserves it more than I."
Sar was speaking about a weapons sergeant in his 12-member Operations Detachment Alpha 732, who was killed in June.
"I am wearing (it) for the guy who went before," said Sar. "He's the one who gave his life for his country. And he also was an immigrant. His father was from Mexico."
While Sar was ambivalent about his Silver Star, he remembers quite well how he got it.
"It was early in the morning, around 7 or 8," Sar said, talking about the March 2 firefight. "It was cold and there was fog."
On that day, he led a Special Forces Team of 12 soldiers to inspect a mountainous area 9,000 feet above sea level, in the province of Pakika near the Pakistani border.
There was still snow on the ground when the first UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter carrying six of Alpha Team members touched down on a north ridge.
Soldiers from that helicopter were immediately pinned down by enemy fire, Sar said. His UH-60 carrying another six soldiers landed on the south side.
"There were bullets whizzing overhead," Sar recalled, as his soldiers jumped off the Black Hawk. He said he started firing, killing one rebel.
"One gave up, another dropped his weapon," Sar said, "and another ran into a bunker."
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
In a Camp Smith ceremony yesterday, Brig. Gen. David Fridovich, left, presented Master Sgt. Suran Sar with the Silver Star for heroic efforts in Afghanistan.
With four of his other team members pinned down by enemy fire in the snow behind him, Sar and his medic decided to pursue the fleeing insurgent.
As he tried to enter a building, an Afghan rebel fired three rounds at Sar from as close as six feet.
"Two of the bullets missed me," Sar said. The third bullet hit his helmet on the right side and barely grazed his forehead. Sar returned fire, killing the Afghan rebel.
The Army said Sar prevented the insurgents from damaging the Black Hawks and continued to fight off the enemy until other team members regrouped. Only two civilian scouts were injured in the firefight, which may have involved as many as 15 Afghan rebels.
Sar received the Silver Star during a special ceremony at Schofield Barracks' Camp Smith yesterday. He also received the Meritorious Service Medal for the eight-month tour in Afghanistan, which ended in June.
During the ceremony, Brig. Gen. David Fridovich, who heads the 200-member Special Operations Command-Pacific at Camp Smith, told the audience that Sar also had been nominated for another Silver Star for another firefight that occurred in the mountainous region of southeastern Afghanistan last April. That award, which is pending, was downgraded to a Bronze Star with a "V" device for valor.
This was Sar's third combat tour, which began with the 1991 Gulf War, and included his first five-month tour in Afghanistan in 2003.
The Silver Star is the country's fourth-highest medal for combat valor. A Camp Smith spokeswoman said she didn't know how many Silver Stars had been earned by Special Forces soldiers in the Pacific Command. However, Maj. Stacy Bathrick, Special Operations spokeswoman, said that 37 Silver Stars have been awarded since the U.S. entered Afghanistan in October 2001.
Sar, a Buddhist, said he believed "God spared my life so I could come home to my wife."