Army Pfc. Craig H. Middleton was the Mk. 19 gunner on his convoy when it came under an insurgent ambush in Afghanistan. But despite his grievous wounds, Middleton was able to beat back the ambush and help save the lives of two wounded airmen — an action that earned him the Silver Star.
Middleton and his unit, Apache Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, were making their way through a dry riverbed bordered by steep hills in Afghanistan on Nov. 16, 2011, when a series of rocket-propelled grenades rained down from the hills on one side.
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The first RPG impacted a scout truck, the second hit the truck behind Middleton, and the third flew through the back window of Middleton's Mine-resistant, Ambush-protected, All-Terrain Vehicle and exploded inside it. Middleton was instantly peppered with shrapnel up and down his legs, but he was still doing better than the two Air Force joint terminal attack controllers in the back of the vehicle. Both of them had received shrapnel and blast damage to their upper bodies.
The Mk. 19 can hurl 40mm grenades like they're going out of style. (Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Phillip Steiner)
The wounded and embattled gunner opened up with his Mk. 19, firing 40mm grenades where the rockets had come from as well as any muzzle flashes or fighters he could spot. Out of targets, Middleton dove into the back of the MATV and applied a tourniquet to one of the JTACs.
Mine-resistant, Ambush-protected, All-terrain vehicles pack a lot of armor, but RPGs can still get inside in rare cases and cause complete havoc.. (Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Alex Manne)
While he treated the first JTAC, another RPG hit the vehicle, so Middleton rushed back up to engage the enemy.
He fired more 40mm grenades, but the nearby hills were too steep for that weapon to reach some of the enemy positions. Middleton switched to his M4 and fired over 100 rounds before going below once again to give the other wounded JTAC a tourniquet. Throughout all of this, Middleton was bleeding from dozens of shrapnel wounds. At some point he was also shot in the thigh.
The Army platoon inflicted an estimated 25 kills against the insurgents despite tough odds. As the fighters retreated, Middleton reassessed the casualties and spotted a severe groin bleed on the second JTAC which he treated with another tourniquet.
The truck then headed to the casualty collection point to get the two wounded airmen to medical care. It wasn't until Middleton had helped prepare the other wounded for the MEDEVAC that he admitted that he was also severely wounded.
Army Spc. Craig Middleton receives the Silver Star from Army Maj. Gen. Kurt Fuller in a 2012 ceremony. (Photo: US Army)
For his actions in Nangarhar Province that day, Middleton was awarded the Silver Star in a 2012 ceremony. Unfortunately, his wounds proved severe enough that he underwent a medical separation from the military. In an interview during that process, the cav scout told Army Staff Sgt. Elwyn Lovelace that he hoped to become a dentist and enjoy a nice, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. work life.
We're pretty sure he's earned it.