Theodore's World: Soldier Hopes His Story Instills Sense of Reality

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July 06, 2009

Soldier Hopes His Story Instills Sense of Reality

Army Staff Sgt. Conrad Begaye stands before fellow soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, during a ceremony in Vicenza, Italy, June 30, 2009. Begaye was awarded the Silver Star for his valorous actions during an enemy ambush Nov. 9, 2007, in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province. U.S. Army photo by Capt. Joseph Sanfilippo

Face of Defense: Soldier Hopes His Story Instills Sense of Reality

By Army Capt. Joseph Sanfilippo
Special to American Forces Press Service

VICENZA, Italy, July 1, 2009

Even as Army Staff Sgt. Conrad Begaye relived the firefight that took the lives of his fellow soldiers, and even as he was awarded the military’s third-highest honor for valor yesterday, his thoughts were on his comrades.

Begaye, a Navajo from Black Canyon City, Ariz., said he wants the story of his actions in Afghanistan to help younger soldiers understand the importance of training, leadership and motivation. For troops eager to see combat, he said, he hopes his story instills a sense of the reality of war.
"It should open their eyes. A firefight is a life-altering experience - one that I'm still living through," Begaye said following a June 30 ceremony here in which he received the Silver Star. "Soldiers should understand … this is real life, and people do die."

On Nov. 9, 2007, Begaye, an Airborne Ranger with the 503rd Infantry Regiment’s 2nd Battalion, was part of a unit that had just met with local leaders in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province. They were hiking along rugged terrain when his squad, his platoon's headquarters sections and a squad of Afghan soldiers began taking fire from enemy positions above.

Pinned down at first, Begaye was struck in the arm while returning fire and directing his men. Begaye bounded over a cliff, calling to his troops to follow him down the rocky slope to find cover.

Keeping his composure against overwhelming odds, Begaye directed and encouraged his fellow soldiers under heavy fire. One paratrooper had been shot in both legs and was still taking fire. Begaye called out to him to play dead, knowing the enemy would shift their fire away if they thought the soldier was killed -- quick thinking that likely helped to save that soldier's life.

Ignoring his own injuries, Begaye moved a wounded soldier to a nearby cave to protect him from enemy fire. Using a radio, he called his higher headquarters and directed mortar fire onto enemy positions - essentially ending the battle. Then he motivated a soldier to organize a defensive perimeter of Afghan soldiers to prevent their unit from being harassed or overrun.

Twenty-one months later, with his comrades standing quietly on the parade ground behind him, Begaye listened as Maj. Gen. William B. Garrett III, commander of U.S. Army Africa, spoke here, where Begaye began his service 10 years ago.

"Today, we honor a noncommissioned officer whose bold actions turned the tide of battle and saved the day, … [and] whose courage under fire and fierce loyalty to his men still astounds us all," Garrett said. "Outnumbered, wounded, and initially pinned down in the kill zone of an enemy ambush -- he didn't hesitate to leap forward, literally, and take charge of the fight."

Garrett spoke of the "warrior ethos" that guides soldiers: place the mission first, never accept defeat, never quit, and never leave a fallen comrade.

"These are just words to some people," Garrett said. "But the warrior ethos is a way of life to Staff Sergeant Begaye. Amazing acts of bravery and valor were commonplace that grim day. But this morning, we recognize Staff Sergeant Begaye for his courage - and we are thankful for the opportunity to serve with such a man."

After the ceremony, Begaye's wife, Air Force Staff Sgt. Idellia Beletso, a flight medic based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, hugged her husband. Hundreds of red-bereted paratroopers lined up to shake Begaye's hand, many of whom served with him in combat.

"There are people who have passed on that deserve this," said Begaye, who served three combat tours. "There were five men who died. I'll accept and wear it in honor of them, not for my actions, but for theirs."
Begaye said he would have preferred a simple handshake or a pat on the back. After all, he said, infantrymen don't fight for medals, they fight for each other. That's why Begaye felt grateful to have soldiers from his unit, Chosen Company, behind him on the parade field during the ceremony.
"What happened there is something I think about every day,” Begaye said. “It's not easy to forget about."

Wild Thing's comment.......

"There were five men who died. I'll accept and wear it in honor of them, not for my actions, but for theirs."

I have heard this from so many Veterans, I wish more people would read and hear these stories that are shared of our troops. It would be good for civilians to know more about what our troops are like and how awesome they are in every way.

Posted by Wild Thing at July 6, 2009 07:47 AM


I am glad to hear SSG Begaye's story. The 173rd Airborne has been doing some heavy fighting in Afghanistan and has paid a bloody price.

Posted by: TomR at July 6, 2009 02:32 PM

Great life lesson WT, thank you.
I certainly hope they paid attention to SSG Begaye's story. This my beloved SSG is an understatement:

"It should open their eyes. A firefight is a life-altering experience - one that I'm still living through,"

Whew, that's a heavy statement that some of us are still re-living.
It always happens to the other guy until one day it's you on stage, lit up in the spotlight, that movie whips into fast forward, you are out of body acting on adrenalin and training, telling that dumb SOB in your shell to move, move goddammit move, no time for fear, John Wayne or any of that Hollywood bullshit, Maestro, where's the goddam background music? This can't be happening but it is. Aftermath of shakes and how did anything live through that? You've just had your cherry busted boy. Sorry, I lost it. Bad dream. It wasn't a war and I was in the rear, remember.

You got that shit right Tom, the 173rd has paid heavy in every battle.

Posted by: Jack at July 6, 2009 02:59 PM

thats why training is so important. Drilled into your head until it is second nature. Happening so fast, especially an ambush, little time, no thinking, just reacting, making it through the first ambush depends on A SSg Begaye. That's why NCO's are the backbone of the Military.

Posted by: Mark at July 6, 2009 04:05 PM

Begaye is a Navajo Name.
The Code Talkers (Marines) were all navajos.

Posted by: Dave Hollenbeck at July 6, 2009 07:14 PM

Tom, they sure have, this was an awesome

Posted by: Wild Thing at July 6, 2009 08:18 PM

Jack, I thought of all of you on here
when I read that. How you all have
lived through so much and lived just
what this quote says.

Posted by: Wild Thing at July 6, 2009 08:21 PM

Mark, thank you for sharing about that.

Posted by: Wild Thing at July 6, 2009 08:23 PM

Dave Hollenbeck, thank you.
I love The Code Talkers.

Posted by: Wild Thing at July 6, 2009 08:25 PM