By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
This blog is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we’ll highlight one of the nearly 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the honor of wearing the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.
In this blog, we honor one of the most recent Medal of Honor recipients: Navy Special Warfare Operator Senior Chief Petty Officer Edward Byers Jr., a SEAL who received the award a little over a year ago for helping rescue an American doctor being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Honor to Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Edward C. Byers Jr. during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., Feb. 29, 2016. (DoD photo by EJ Hersom)
Byers, an Ohio native, began his naval career in 1998, joining up right after high school graduation. He spent four years as a hospital corpsman before attending SEAL training, which he graduated from in 2002.
Byers earned his Medal of Honor on Dec. 9, 2012, as a member of an assault and rescue team attached to a Joint Task Force in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. All of the members of the rescue team volunteered for the mission, which was to rescue Dr. Dilip Joseph, who had been abducted along with his Afghan translator/driver about a week earlier.
Intelligence had shown that Joseph was being held in a small, single-room building in a remote area of eastern Afghanistan and that he was likely going to be moved at any time. So the rescue needed to happen immediately, and the element of surprise was important.
The rescue team left their forward operating base and trekked for about four hours over mountainous terrain to get into position for the assault. Unfortunately, about 25 meters from their objective, an enemy guard saw them coming and ran inside the target building to inform his comrades.
Video by U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Robert Williams Jr.
Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas Checque, 28, was on the team with Byers. He shot the enemy guard and ran into the building after him. Checque was shot immediately in the head.
Seeing that happen, Byers followed on his team member’s footsteps anyway, ripping down the blankets that were being used as a makeshift door so the rest of his team could get in. He then shot an enemy guard who had an AK-47 aimed at him, and tackled and shot another man who had run toward a corner of the room.
As Byers was containing that threat, other SEAL team members ran into the room and began calling out for the hostage. Byers heard a man reply in English, so he ran toward the sound and jumped atop Joseph, shielding him from the heavy gunfire ensuing all around the room.
An information graphic showing the December 2012 rescue mission that led to Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Ed Byers Jr. receiving the Medal of Honor. (Navy graphic by Austin Rooney)
While continuing to block the hostage from harm, Byers managed to grab the last enemy guard by the throat and hold him against a wall until another SEAL took him out. Five Taliban fighters were killed by the time the mission was complete.
Once the doctor was taken to safety, Byers, who was also a paramedic, began feverishly trying to help Checque. He and several others performed CPR throughout the 40-minute flight to Bagram Airfield, but it was too late. Checque had died.
Usually members of SEAL teams aren’t identified publicly, but on Feb. 29, 2016, Byers stepped into the spotlight for the first time to receive the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama. The next day, he was inducted into the Pentagon Hall of Heroes. At both ceremonies, he insisted that Checque, his fallen friend, was the true hero.
Video: Byers receives Medal of Honor
Byers has truly given his life to service. He’s been on 11 deployments and nine combat tours and has earned five Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts and numerous other awards.
Byers still maintains his position with the Navy. He is the sixth SEAL to receive the Medal of Honor and the 11th living service member to earn it for actions taken during Operation Enduring Freedom, now the longest war in U.S. history.
Thank you, SOCS Byers, for your bravery and selflessness!