4ID Soldier awarded Distinguished Service Cross

Dec 20, 2018 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska

A 4th Infantry Division Soldier was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest Army award for extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force, in a ceremony Dec. 15, 2018, for his actions during the battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan Oct. 3, 2009.

Staff Sgt. Justin T. Gallegos, then 27, a team leader with Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Inf. Div., was originally awarded a Silver Star for his part in the battle that saw approximately 300 Taliban fighters attack fewer than 60 U.S. Soldiers.

Col. Dave Zinn, commander, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, presented the Distinguished Service Cross to Gallegos’ son MacAiden and Sen. Lisa Murkowski presented him a folded flag.

Although Gallegos never served with U.S. Army Alaska (USARAK), they hosted the ceremony because MacAiden and his mother, Amanda Marr are residents of Alaska.

“As the battle kicked off on the early morning of Oct. 3, this group of men were outmanned and out gunned by an enemy force that numbered up to 300,” said Lt. Col. Michael Meyer, commander, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division and master of ceremonies, “The enemy had better positioning and surprise, hiding in the micro terrain and scrub trees of the mountains of Nuristan.”

The commander of Bravo Troop at the time of the battle, Maj. Stoney Portis said, “When I heard the news that Justin’s Distinguished Service Cross had finally been approved, I knew that one of the discrepancies in the narrative of the Battle of Combat Outpost (COP) Keating had finally been corrected.

“Justin Gallegos risked his life to save Stephan Mace. It was that one event, which we were not able to articulate in the narrative of Justin’s Silver Star, that called for an upgrade to the Distinguished Service Cross.”

Portis read from the Distinguished Service Cross narrative describing the actions of the event, which neither Gallegos nor Mace survived.

“We had always known that Justin is a hero, but within the context of his saving Stephan Mace, we are reminded that Justin is not only a great hero, but that he is also a good man,” said Portis. “Justin’s actions that day, as well as the actions of Josh Hardt, Josh Kirk, Stephan Mace, Michael Scusa, Chris Griffin, Kevin Thomson, and Vernon Martin,preserved the lives of so many others.”

The Battle of Kamdesh claimed eight American lives and resulted in the awarding of two Medals of Honor, 27 Purple Heart Medals, 37 Army Commendation Medals with “V” device for valor, 18 Bronze Stars with “V” device and nine Silver Stars.

“Medal upgrades aren’t unheard of, but in fairness they are rare, they are very rare,” Murkowski said. “It’s said they almost require an act of Congress, well, in this case, it did require an act of Congress.”

Medal of Honor recipients Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha and Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, veterans of the Battle of Kamdesh, attended the ceremony.