Sky Soldier awarded Distinguished Service Cross
by Staff Sgt. Brandon Aird, 173rd ABCT Public Affairs
VICENZA, Italy -- Staff Sgt. Erich Phillips, mortar platoon sergeant for Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, also known as "The Rock," was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross Sept. 15, 2008, in Vicenza, Italy for his actions Aug. 22, 2007, at Ranch House in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan.
The DSC is the second highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of the Army, and only the fifth awarded to a servicemember during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Before dawn on Aug. 22, 2007, 60 to 80 Taliban extremists moved into position to launch a three-pronged attack against Ranch House. Video footage posted on an extremist website showed Taliban rehearsing over a detailed map of Ranch House's fighting positions.
"Their plan was to overrun our forward operating base," said Phillips, who is from Eastpoint, Fla.
When the Taliban attacked Ranch House, 22 American Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team were living at the base. They worked side-by-side with the Afghan National Army in one of the most rugged and remote NATO bases in Afghanistan.
Every defended position was bombarded with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades simultaneously, said Phillips.
"I woke up to RPG's slamming into my building," recalled Phillips.
The Taliban, whom breached the Afghan perimeter, quickly over took an ANA and Afghan Security Guards (private security firm) weapons and ammo cache, which they unleashed on the U.S. Soldiers.
"At this point all communication was lost with Post 3 and Post 4," said Phillips. Phillips didn't know it yet, but Post 3 was destroyed and Pfc. Jeddah Deloria was trapped underneath the collapsed fighting position. The other wounded Soldiers from Post 3 had retreated to Post 2.
Phillips organized defenses around the tactical operations center, which was being hit by RPG's, machine guns and small-arms fire. The 22 Soldiers were outnumbered three to one.
Phillips seeing that the TOC risked being overrun began positioning Soldiers in a defensive perimeter and relayed information to 1st Lt. Matthew Ferrara, platoon leader, who was on the radio calling for artillery and close air support.
The effective enemy fire destroyed the TOC's radio antennas mounted on the roof, which left the platoon with no communication for five minutes.
Ferrara moved the TOC outside and with a dismounted radio, re-established communications.
After learning Post 2 had numerous causalities, Phillips grabbed Sgt. Kyle Dirkintis, the platoon medic, and attempted to assault up the mountain toward Post 2. Phillip's Soldiers used hand grenades and small-arms fire to help cover his and Dirkintis' movement.
While bounding toward Post 2, Phillips and Dirkintis were pinned down by enemy fire at a set of wooden structures, which were Post 2's living quarters.
"At this point, Soldiers at Post 2 yelled down to me that two enemy fighters were on the other end of the building I was taking cover on," said Phillips.
Phillips, only three meters away from the enemy, rolled two hand grenades over the top of the living quarters.
"Once the explosion went off doc (Dirkintis) realized how bad we were taking fire and he came from behind cover to fire and was shot in the chest," explained Phillips.
Dirkintis coughing up blood and suffering from a collapsed lung was unable to stand up. Phillips coordinated with Post 2 to provide cover fire while he dragged Dirkintis down the hill. Upon reaching the mortar pit, Phillips started to perform first aid and was assisted by another Soldier.
Phillips directed the Soldier to provide first aid while he continued to fire small arms and direct another Soldier's grenades toward Taliban positions until an Air Force A-10 Warthog began strafing the base.
"The first gun run went southeast to west behind the aid station right into the back of the TOC, and the second came from the south to the north down the center of the FOB," said Phillips.
The Warthog helped repel the advancing Taliban and enabled Phillips to lead a team of Soldiers to recover Deloria who had been alone at Post 3 for two and a half hours.
"Once I climbed the ladder to Post 3 I could see the post had taken severe damage and had fallen on top of Deloria," said Phillips. "Deloria had attempted to blow all four claymore mines. He even applied first aid to himself and was holding his weapon when I found him. I tried to carry Deloria back down to the causality collection point, but he said 'I want to walk sergeant'."
Once back to the causality collection point, Phillips began preparing Soldiers for evacuation and helped evacuate all of the wounded. Once the quick reaction force arrived, Phillips led the Soldiers to retake the lost section of the base.
By fighting's end, half of the U.S. Soldiers would be wounded and one ANA and ASG would be killed. No Soldiers were killed in the two and half hour firefight and the base was not overrun.
"I just tried to maintain the front line," said Phillips. "The other Soldiers deserve just as much recognition as me."
Phillips would go on to fight in an ambush near Aranus and the battle of Wanat - the two largest battles the 173rd ABCT saw in Afghanistan during their deployment - which resulted in 14 Chosen Company Soldiers killed in action.
Phillips, who also was awarded the Purple Heart, is scheduled to leave Chosen Company and become a ranger instructor at 6th Ranger Training Battalion.
PHOTO CAPTION - Gen. Cart Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe, awards Staff Sgt. Erich R. Phillips, mortar platoon sergeant for Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), the Distinguished Service Cross, Sept. 15, 2008, in Vicenza, Italy, for actions performed in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan Aug. 22, 2007. Phillips, from Eastpoint, Fla., coordinated the last line of defense after Taliban extremists over ran half of his unit's remote base. The DSC is the second highest military decoration that can be awarded a Soldier from the U.S. Army. Phillips is the fifth servicemember to be awarded the DSC for actions during Operation Enduring Freedom.