On September 8, 2009, an Afghan patrol and its American trainers entered Ganjgal Village and were ambushed by more than 50 Taliban insurgents. Bullets rained down from the surrounding mountains. A mile away, then Corporal Dakota Meyer heard the attack and requests for help over the radio. Along with Staff Sargeant Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, Meyer requested permission to go into the firestorm to rescue his fellow soldiers. Denied permission four times, Meyer and Rodriguez-Chavez defied orders and hopped into an armored Humvee. Rodriguez-Chavez took the wheel while Meyer manned the gun turret.
Over the course of six hours, they entered the valley five times to aid their fellow soldiers, continuing even after Meyer was wounded. His heroism, laying down cover and pulling individual soldiers out of the kill zone, resulted in the rescue of 36 people — 13 Americans and 23 Afghans. During the six-hour battle, Meyer killed at least eight enemy combatants.
For his heroic efforts, the Kentucky native was nominated to receive the Medal of Honor, the highest award that can be bestowed upon a member of the United States Armed Forces. Meyer would become the only living Marine to earn the award for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq. There have recently been questions about whether soldiers fighting in the Middle East since 2001 are being honored properly, as the number of those being honored pales in comparison to the number who were honored in previous wars.
Staff Sargeant Rodriguez-Chavez was given the Navy Cross for his heroism. In an investigation into the battle, three officers were reprimanded, with the report stating that “actions of key leaders at the battalion level were inadequate and ineffective” and noting the “poor performance of the commissioned officers who were present.”
A soldier’s requests
Meyer had a few requests when the White House contacted him about his nomination being approved. First, he asked if the White House could call back during the lunch hour of his construction job, as he wouldn’t get paid if he didn’t work. Second, Meyer wondered if he could share a beer with the commander-in-chief, a request that President Obama honored outside the White House the day before Meyer’s Medal of Honor ceremony.
Finally, Meyer asked that the award be accepted in the name of the five men who didn’t survive that day, acknowledging four soldiers who died during the ambush and a fifth who passed away from his injuries after the battle. On September 15, 2011, President Obama fulfilled an American hero’s request and honored those fallen soldiers:
“So today, we remember the husband who loved the outdoors — Lieutenant Michael Johnson. The husband and father they called ‘Gunny J’ — Gunnery Sargeant Edwin Johnson. The determined Marine who fought to get on that team — Staff Sargeant Aaron Kenefick. The medic who gave his life tending to his teammates — Hospitalman 3rd Class James Layton. And a soldier wounded in that battle who never recovered — Sargeant 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook.”
After nearly joining the New York Fire Department, Meyer has started speaking about his experiences in the military. He has another quest: to raise $2 million for the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation by its 50th anniversary, on May 28, 2012. Meyer calls the goal, fittingly, a Challenge to America.
Donations to the Dakota Meyer Scholarship can be made here.
Chris Wilson is an editor at Yahoo! who has previously been involved in team coverage of World Cup 2010, the royal wedding, and the September 11 Memorial page.