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July 7, 2009 - 4:42 PM

Sen. Burr Floor Speech Honoring Master Sergeant Brendan O'Connor, Recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross

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   Madam President, one of the privileges of being a Senator is that we have the opportunity to meet extraordinary people every day. Whether you are the Senator from Illinois or the Senator from Nebraska, extraordinary people walk through your door every day of the week. But sometimes we get to meet amazing individuals whom we can honestly call heroes, who lay their lives on the line for their country and sacrifice themselves for our freedom.

 

   MSG Brendan O'Connor, a medic in the 7th Special Forces Group, is one of those very special people. In June of 2006, Master Sergeant O'Connor was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His group was stationed near Kandahar and charged with a variety of things, including security, training of the Afghan Army, and counterterrorism operations against a ruthless enemy.

 

   We have all heard news reports and heard of suicide bombers driving cars loaded with explosives into markets and crowded areas killing innocent men, women, and children. We have all heard accounts of suicide bombers strapping explosives to their waists and walking through a market, intentionally killing individuals. All of these individuals have been branded as religious zealots willing to die for their cause. However, that is not always the case. Oftentimes, these Taliban warlords recruit suicide bombers in other ways. They go into small villages and they hold whole families hostage. They instruct the young men in the family that if they do not carry out a suicide mission, they are going to kill the rest of the family, or if they do, they will let them live.

 

   Brendan's team was tracking one of these Taliban warlords, one of these thugs, outside of Kandahar, who was notorious for this type of ``recruitment.'' They tracked the terrorist to a small farming village surrounded by vineyards and orchards. Once in the area, Brendan's team set up a perimeter and defensive position to root out these warlords. They arrived late one evening and, working under the cloak of darkness, proceeded to sweep the village, hoping to surprise the local Taliban leader. However, their arrival was tipped off to the Taliban, and they had fled just minutes before U.S. soldiers arrived.

 

   Having found evidence of the Taliban's existence, the soldiers knew it was only a matter of time before they engaged the enemy. That first skirmish started the next day at dusk. Brendan's team, about 70 soldiers comprised of 8 U.S. special ops and 60 Afghan soldiers, took some small arms and rocket propelled grenade fire, but it didn't last long. The Taliban attacked the U.S.-led forces several more times over the next day and night but never amounting to much. U.S.-led forces didn't even sustain a single injury during those firefights.

 

   After having arrived on Wednesday evening and sporadically fighting the Taliban for 2 days, Brendan's team decided it was time to take the fight to the enemy. On that Saturday, MSG Tom Maholluck led a small recon group to a Taliban stronghold, which was just outside the village in a cluster of farm buildings. The team was comprised of four special forces operators and a dozen Afghan Army. Sergeant Maholluck was able to get in close enough to the compound without being detected. Once he assessed the situation, Sergeant Maholluck thought he could take the compound with a simple recon team. He ordered two of his soldiers--SSG Matt Binnie and SSG Joe Feurst--to take a fire suppression position and cover Sergeant Maholluck and the remaining Afghan Army contingency while they stormed the compound.

 

   When the U.S.-led recon team launched its first attack on the Taliban compound, they were quickly greeted with heavy machine gunfire. The first fire expression team returned fire; however, the machine gun nest had a tactical advantage over the fire team--they had the higher ground. Matt was struck first by a bullet that grazed his neck and stunned him for a moment. Matt regained his senses, and he and Joe returned fire, as much as they could, but the Taliban had them pinned down. Then an RPG round came and struck Staff Sergeant Feurst directly in the leg. It didn't explode, thankfully, but badly wounded SSG Joe Feurst. As Staff Sergeant Binnie was tending to Joe's leg, he was shot through the shoulder. The only thing left of the fire suppression team was a young Afghan interpreter who had stayed with them. Master Sergeant Maholluck was cut off from Staff Sergeant Binnie and Staff Sergeant Feurst, so he radioed for help.

 

   Back at the main perimeter, Brendan O'Connor got the call and put a team together to go get his wounded soldiers. When Brendan's team got to the area, the Taliban had taken positions along the route to the wounded soldiers, leaving Brendan only one path--an exposed field. Brendan instructed his team to take up positions to support the wounded and started on his mission to save the lives of these soldiers.

 

   At first, Brendan started crawling through an open field with his gear on. He quickly realized this wasn't going to work. So under a hail of small arms, RPG, and machine gun fire, Brendan removed all his armor and crawled through an open field to get to the two wounded. Brendan couldn't locate the two soldiers by sight, only by calling out. And as he heard them, he would get closer and closer.

 

   When he arrived at the two wounded, he had to make a quick decision about Joe's injuries, which were life threatening. Brendan quickly got Staff Sergeant Binnie taken care of and instructed him to crawl through a culvert to get to safety. Staff Sergeant Feurst wasn't so easy. He was unconscious and unable to move. Brendan pulled him down as far as he could into the culvert. He started to drag him, but he realized he couldn't drag him the entire way.

 

   As if the actions of Brendan and his team weren't heroic enough at this point, the next part of this account will send chills down your spine.

 

   At this time during the fight, it was estimated that nearly 300 Taliban fighters had engaged the approximately 15-member U.S. force. I say approximately because several Afghan Army members who originally accompanied Brendan's team had fled by this point. As Brendan's natural cover was coming to an end, he pulled Joe on to his shoulder, and he ran across an area while 300 Taliban fighters were shooting at him. God was watching Brendan that day. God saw one man risk his life to save another, and he saw fit to keep Brendan from harm as he carried a wounded U.S. soldier to safety. Unfortunately, Joe Feurst died soon after Brendan got him back due to massive blood loss. SSG Matt Binnie survived because of Brendan's leadership and courage under fire.

 

   The battle that had gone on for nearly 3 days was coming to an end at this point. U.S. forces had air support, which escorted them out of the area. All told, the U.S.-led force killed 125 Taliban fighters and only lost 2 of their own, with 1 wounded. They weren't able to capture or kill the warlord that time; however, due to the losses to the Taliban that day in that strike, U.S. forces got him several weeks later.

 

   For their heroics in combat, MSG Tom Maholluck and SSG Matt Binnie were awarded the Silver Star. SSG Joe Feurst was awarded the Bronze Star. Brendan O'Connor was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his valor. It was the first time a member of the 7th Special Forces Group had been awarded the medal since 1964.

 

   It is an honor to have Brendan and his family in Washington today. He is joined by his beautiful wife Meg and their children, Ryan, Colin, Darby, and Dillon.

 

   It is this type of story that we rarely hear about on the nightly news, but this story was so amazing that ``60 Minutes'' felt compelled to do a piece on it after the soldiers arrived back home. MSG Brendan O'Connor is a person held in the highest regard by other warriors who have proudly served this country. He is a soldier who truly understands the price of freedom. The Senate salutes MSG Brendan O'Connor today.

 

   I thank the Chair, and I yield the floor.





July 2009 Press Releases