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Bronze Star earned in Afghanistan

GARDNER- Beverly Brownlee, who lives perched up above Gardner near Libre for the past 14 years, is proud of her grandson Sean Brownlee, who is a marine stationed in Afghanistan.  This is his third tour of duty, with two tours already served in Iraq.

    Brownlee was recently awarded the Bronze Star for his actions.  The description of what he did is as follows:

    For heroic achievement while serving as an Element Leader, Marine Special Operations Team – Three, Task Force-87, Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Afghanistan on 17 July 2008 during combat operations in Zeriko Valley, Herat Province, Afghanistan.  On 17 July 2008, SSgt Brownlee had been serving as the primary combat advisor for 1st Company, 207th Afghan Commando Battalion.  He had been serving in this capacity for over two months and had been responsible for the training, logistical support, and tactical employment of the company in conjunction with the company commander.  During the course of his time with 1st Company, SSgt Brownlee trained them to a high level of proficiency in close quarters battle, the conduct of direct action raids, as well as mounted and dismounted patrolling procedures. 

    Additionally, SSgt Brownlee had taught himself functional Dari, and was able to work without an interpreter when training the Commandos.

    In the first week of July, the 207th Commandos received a mission to establish a foothold in the Zeriko Valley, which at the time was the largest insurgent sanctuary in Regional Command – West.  No government forces had been in the Zeriko Valley for the last fifteen months. 

    Prior to that a large Taliban force had successfully engaged three ODAs, and had the Zeriko Valley declared as a restricted area for Afghan National Security Forces and Coalition operations.  This prohibition on operations caused the Zeriko Valley to develop into a hotbed for Taliban activity as well as Iranian influence.  By mid-July 2008 it was estimated that nearly 300 hundred Taliban fighters occupied the Zeriko Valley.  1st Company’s mission would be to conduct a direct action raid against Nangalai Khan, one of the most senior Taliban Commanders in the Zeriko Valley, and then to hold his compound against any insurgent counter-attacks in order to establish a foothold for follow on operations.

    On the night of 17 July, SSgt Brownlee acting as the primary advisor to 44 Commandos from 1st Company, air assaulted into the heart of the Zeriko Valley.  Upon landing in their HLZs SSgt Brownlee and the Commandos immediately came under fire from adjacent compounds as approximately twenty insurgents fled the objective.  SSgt Brownlee immediately helped organize the Commandos to effectively suppress these adjacent buildings as the Commandos maneuvered to breach Nangalai Khan’s compound.  As SSgt Brownlee and the Commandos got closer to Nangalai Khan’s compound they came under accurate and sustained small arms fire from that objective. 

    Disregarding his own personal safety, SSgt Brownlee maneuvered the lead element of the Raid Force up to the breach point and made entry to the objective with the Commandos.  After initiating an explosive breach, SSgt Brownlee and the Commandos engaged and killed two insurgents on the objective.  Upon conducting a cursory search of the compound SSgt Brownlee and the Commandos discovered 15 hostages held in a make shift prison as well as a cache which included Iranian made weapons.

    Realizing that the compound the Raid Force currently occupied was dangerously exposed to the higher adjacent buildings, SSgt Brownlee rallied the Commandos to assault into those structures.  Without the aid of an interpreter, SSgt Brownlee rallied the Commandos he had with him and developed a tactical plan with their commander to move into the adjacent compounds.  To move into these buildings, SSgt Brownlee had to coordinate a breach of a seven foot high wall across open terrain. 

    With another advisor and four Commandos, SSgt Brownlee exposed himself to enemy fire to set the breach and ensure the momentum of the assault would not be stalled.  As the breach detonated it led to a maze of compounds that dominated the terrain around the objective.  As his element of assaulters pushed through these complex structures they were broken down into smaller and smaller clearing teams.  For the next two hours SSgt Brownlee led the Commandos and fought along side them as they cleared entire compounds in groups as small as three to four Commandos.  Frequently, SSgt Brownlee was the only American with the Commando clearing teams.

    After the initial clear the Raid Force strong pointed the buildings around the objective and continued to come under sustained and accurate small arms and sniper fire.  At this time SSgt Brownlee moved the 44 Commandos to a position of tactical advantage where they could successfully engage the surrounding Taliban fighters.  Shortly after establishing these strong-pointed positions with the Commandos, the local mosque began issuing commands to the Taliban fighters in Dari.  SSgt Brownlee instantly translated the message to his team mates which allowed them to enhance their security posture.     Almost instantaneously upon hearing the message the volume of fire surrounding the Raid Force’s strong pointed position increased and groups of 3-5 Taliban fighters were observed maneuvering towards the Raid Force.  Again SSgt Brownlee moved between the Commando’s positions, exposing himself to direct fire and orienting the Commando’s fires and encouraging them.  As SSgt Brownlee and the Commandos maintained pressure on the Taliban fighters the Raid Force was able to call in close-air-support and destroy the enemy positions.

    The example set by SSgt Brownlee throughout the conduct of this extremely important and dangerous mission was nothing less than heroic.  The dedication he has shown throughout our partnership with the 207th Commandos by learning Dari, training and building rapport and trust with them was evident as they followed him without hesitation into the most dangerous situations.  SSgt Brownlee’s selfless dedication to himself, his teammates, and the Commandos is reminiscent of Marine and USSOF legends of the past.  I cannot think of a Marine more deserving of this special recognition.