Spc. Brandon Longshore, a baby-faced, 20-year-old Alabama native, was just doing the jobs he loves when he was hit by fragments from an exploding grenade.
“I was blown up by a grenade,” he explained. “I was pulling security. Grenade came in and I caught shrapnel to the shoulder and the leg.”
As harrowing as that kind of experience sounds, it’s just one of many recollections from duty with the 4th Squadron, 4th Cavalry, whose members were honored for valor last week in a ceremony on Fort Riley. Longshore was one of the honorees, receiving a Purple Heart for the wounds sustained in the grenade attack.
The incident Longshore recalls most strongly occurred while he was on an air assault team. He was helping fill his comrades’ guns with ammo while they used a rooftop to hold off a group of Taliban.
One of his officers directed Longshore to a fire. He went there, and witnessed a child jump through a window of the burning structure.
“After he jumped in the window, I waited for him to come out,” Longshore said. “Our interpreter told us that he went to get the cows.”
When the boy didn’t come out, Longshore decided to risk his own for life to save the child’s. Longshore found the boy curled up inside and guided both the boy and the cattle to safety. The boy thanked Longshore for saving his life.
“He was screaming to the medics that he was happy that I got the cows out, too, and not just him,” Longshore said.
Now, Longshore hopes to attend officer school.
“I love my job,” he said. “I don’t want to do anything else.”
Episodes of that sort seared the memories of the brigade’s soldiers as they recognized a variety of heroic acts performed during the unit’s tour in Afghanistan. The stories are chilling.
“People get hurt and that really sucks,” said Sgt. Zackary Newbury. “It’s not like in the movies. It’s horrible hearing them scream, knowing that their families are never going to see them again.”
Newbury received a Purple Heart and an Army Commendation Medal for Valor. He won the Purple Heart after sustaining a head wound during battle, and earned the commendation by leading his team home safely after a fellow soldier, Gustava Rios-Ordonez, died from wounds suffered due to an improvised explosive device (IED).
Newbury members of his unit averaged about four hours of sleep during their tour.
During most days, their job was to try to find caches of weapons and mingle with the locals to learn about the Taliban’s whereabouts. Newbury said he and the other soldiers would have a firefight once or twice a day.
“Most of them are just pop shots,” Newbury said. “We would just try to fire back and hit them.”
At other times, Newbury would have to pull tower guard and provide security for the townspeople during their town hall meetings.
The long nights and arduous days helped Newbury and the other soldiers bond.
“We were together about two years before we deployed,” Newbury said. “We drink together, party together, cook together. Some nights you’ll sleep in a giant pile just to stay warm. Any one of them I’ll trust with my life.”
Like most soldiers, Sgt. 1st Class James Rogers was fighting for his family back home. His wife of nearly six years, Robin Rogers, was pregnant with the couple’s third child while he was on tour. Being the wife of a soldier has taken its toll on Robin.
“You have to learn to adjust with him being gone half the time,” she said. “I think I have built up a shield. I just try to keep everything separated at home.”
Robin, who also has a son and a daughter, said her kids kept her going through the hard times.
“They help you block out everything and keep you going every day,” she said.
The adjustment of having dad back home has been a trying period for one of the Rogers’ children.
“My son kind of adjusted like normal,” Robin said. “But my daughter was a little taken aback. She was pretty emotional when she saw him for the first time.”
James Rogers won a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and an Army Commendation Medal for Valor. Rogers received his Purple Heart for an injury he sustained while on a dismounted patrol.
He received his Army Commendation for Valor for holding a key compound away from the Taliban, and his Bronze Star for the accumulation of his tour.
Rogers said it’s tough to be away from family.
“You have to bite down and really make yourself stay focused,” James said. “I know a lot of guys who quit. Not that I would hold that against them. It’s just a hard place to be at.”
Robin said seeing James receive his awards was worth the wait.
“It’s been a long year and to actually watch him get it from the people he deserves it from . . . sigh).”