Mitch Napier recently left the Army with one of the nation’s highest awards for heroism and an unforgettable story.
The Augusta native was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor device for his actions during a battle June 25, 2011, that initially pitted a Taliban force 300 strong against 16 soldiers.
Napier, 24, who deployed to Afghanistan just months after graduating from Alleluia Community School, remains modest about his actions.
“I was just doing my thing,” the former Army specialist said by phone this week from Savannah, Ga. “It’s not really a big deal.”
The action started as a routine patrol in the Ganjgal Valley in eastern Afghanistan. It’s the same valley where a battle in 2009 earned a Medal of Honor for Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer.
Napier, an infantryman, was driving one of four mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles across the valley’s poor roads when one vehicle drifted into a ditch. The soldiers were attempting to tow the seven-ton MRAP vehicle out of the ditch when their exposed position drew fire.
“It was really coming down, just intense,” Napier said.
The soldiers returned fire toward the east, but soon they were taking fire from all directions. As the battle’s intensity grew, the .50-caliber gun on one of the vehicles jammed. When the gunner came from out of cover to clear the weapon, Napier noticed an enemy fighter 25 meters from the truck taking aim.
Napier jumped out of the truck, shot the fighter and was back under cover in what felt like seconds.
“It was just reaction,” Napier said. “Later I realized I really could have died.”
The soldiers maintained their position, eventually receiving backup from armed helicopters and drones. Reconnaissance later showed that the soldiers were fighting against hundreds of Taliban fighters.
“We were in a bad place,” said Napier, who was not injured.
Napier finished his second deployment in February and received his medal in May. The Bronze Star with Valor device is the fourth-highest combat award.
Now two weeks separated from the Army, Napier plans to start classes at Savannah Technical College and earn a degree in criminal justice. His ultimate goal is to become a game warden.