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Park Rapids grad earns Silver Star

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel B. Allyn presents the Silver Star to Sgt. Derek J. Anderson on April 29 at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga. (Submitted photo)

By Jean Ruzicka

Army Ranger Sgt. Derek Anderson has been awarded the Silver Star Medal, the nation’s third highest military honor for valor.

The 24-year-old son of Darrel and Renee Anderson and a 2008 Park Rapids alumnus, was recognized last week in Georgia for his heroics Dec. 2, 2014 in Nangahar Province, eastern Afghanistan where he was deployed with the Hunter Airfield-based 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.

Anderson and Staff Sergeant James Jones exposed themselves to heavy enemy fire in an open courtyard to pull a wounded comrade to safety, according to the Army Times.

Sgt. Travis Dunn had been shot in his left side and fallen down an embankment.

“Willingly and without hesitation” the men pulled Dunn to safety.

“I’m very proud of him,” Renee Anderson said Monday, returning from Georgia. “But I try not to think about what happens” on the battlefield.

“Anybody in this battalion or in this regiment would do the exact same thing,” Anderson said at the April 29 ceremony.

Five other Rangers were also singled out at Truscott Air Terminal for their “exceptionally valorous” actions during the firefight.

Dunn was presented a Purple Heart, his second.

“I just happened to be the one standing there,” Anderson said. “We all work hard, train hard…we all do the same thing.

“We just do the job for the guys to our left and right. I don’t think anyone really wants to be put in the spotlight,” Anderson said.

That attitude, said 1st Sgt. Joshua Peterson, the senior enlisted leader for 1-75’s Bravo Co., is common among the elite soldiers within the 75th Ranger Regiment. Thousands of 1st Battalion Rangers have deployed from Truscott to the most heavily contested regions of Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001.

On this mission, the Rangers were part of a joint task force that had just assaulted one compound and was preparing to head to a second location more than a mile to the north, according to the narratives accompanying the awards for Anderson and Jones.

As they moved toward the second compound, two enemy fighters armed with AK-47s moved through the wood line to the left of the lead element.

Anderson, a Ranger fire team leader, was “within near ambush range” when one of the enemy fighters took aim at Jones, who was the point man.

The enemy charged his weapon, and Anderson “instinctively maneuvered to a point of tactical advantage with zero regard for personal safety and accurately engaged one of the two enemy combatants,” according to the narrative.

Anderson continued to fire on the other enemy fighter, who had taken cover in a ditch but continued to shoot at the American and Afghan patrol.

Anderson then ordered Cpl. Charles Doffing and Pfc. Kaelen Fausey to continue putting suppressive fire on the ditch to allow Jones and Dunn to move to cover.

“I had already passed [the enemy fighter], it was behind me, and I just heard an overwhelming amount of gunshots,” Jones said.

When they found cover, Jones threw a hand grenade at the enemy in the ditch, according to the narrative accompanying his award.

The enemy was “extremely close,” Jones said.

“It was a first reaction,” he said about lobbing the grenade. “Neither of us could really engage each other fatally, and the quickest answer was to throw a grenade.”

Dunn jumped into action as well, immediately returning fire and moving closer to the enemy, according to the narrative.

Anderson then exposed himself yet again to “precisely fix the enemy’s position with direct fire until the hand grenade detonated,” according to the narrative. He is credited with helping the assault force move safely through a fortified enemy position.

Once the task force arrived at its second target, the task force began a callout, where troops would call out for women and children to clear the building and seek safety.

Throughout the callout, the U.S. and Afghan troops came under continuous and direct fire from AK-47s, PKM machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, according to the narrative accompanying Jones’ Silver Star.

Jones, Anderson and Dunn maintained a blocking position on the west side of the compound, Jones, a squad leader, said.

As they pulled security, they saw four to six enemy fighters down the road coming towards them, he said.

They immediately fired at the enemy, killing all but one. That remaining enemy fighter immediately began running to the east, but he was engaged by helicopters providing close-air support, according to the narrative for Anderson’s Silver Star.

Inside the compound, three enemy fighters who were barricaded into place began shooting at the rooftop security team, firing rifles and lobbing grenades.

“We were on the ground right below them,” Jones said. The rooftop team could not successfully engage the barricaded enemy fighters, so Dunn and Anderson moved in so Dunn could engage the enemy using his M320 grenade launcher. After firing one 40mm grenade, Dunn was shot in the chest on his left side. He fell down the embankment into the courtyard of the compound.

“Willingly and without hesitation or regard for his own personal safety, completely exposing himself to heavy automatic gunfire, Sgt. Anderson ran into the courtyard and grabbed Sgt. Dunn, pulling him back to the breach and eventually to cover for treatment,” while White and Staff Sgt. Matthew Healy suppressed the northern building.

Jones, who was 20 feet away, heard Anderson call on the radio that Dunn had been hit.

“I ran over to the doorway of the compound and Anderson was all the way inside dragging Sgt. Dunn, so I ran over to him,” Jones said. “It was just a knee-jerk reaction. It’s something that we train for.”

Jones, who has deployed 11 times to Iraq and Afghanistan, helped treat and medically evacuate Dunn. He then moved under machine gun fire to orient his M3 Carl Gustav team towards the barricaded shooter, directing three “accurately placed shots” from the Multi-Role Anti-Armor Anti-Personnel Weapon System into the side of the compound.

Both Jones and Anderson are credited with protecting 49 joint special operations troops.

Dunn was the only U.S. service member seriously wounded on that mission. He continues to be in long-term outpatient rehabilitation and is confined to a wheelchair.

Anderson downplayed his actions.

“We do so much training that it’s just a natural reaction,” he said. “We just do the job for the guys to our left and right.”