Special Forces Unit Member Killed in Niger Ambush Honored for Bravery

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Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson was recently awarded a posthumous Bronze Star with Valor device for his heroism during the October 2017 Niger ambush. (Courtesy of the Johnson family)
Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson was recently awarded a posthumous Bronze Star with Valor device for his heroism during the October 2017 Niger ambush. (Courtesy of the Johnson family)

The Army recently awarded Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson with a posthumous Bronze Star with Valor device for his heroism during the October 2017 Niger ambush that killed him and three other Special Forces soldiers.

The vicious Oct. 4 enemy ambush touched off a firestorm of allegations that the Green Beret team and Nigerien troops were sent on a poorly planned, last-minute raid to capture a suspected terrorist without support or air cover. The investigation that followed led to disciplinary actions taken against nine individuals as a result of failures in judgment, preparation or actions in the ambush.

The joint, mounted patrol consisted of 10 members of Operational Detachment Alpha Team 3212 from the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) and roughly 34 Nigerien troops.

The mission turned out to be a dry hole, failing to find the suspected enemy leader. Soon after, while passing through the village of Tongo Tongo, the patrol was hit with heavy enemy fire from a larger force.

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The battle became so intense that the patrol had to pull back to a defensive position.

During the battle, then-Staff Sgt. Johnson -- a Special Forces detachment chemical reconnaissance sergeant -- "maneuvered multiple times across open terrain through intense and accurate fire from an overwhelming hostile force to protect his team," according to an account that was read at his Aug. 10 award ceremony in Greenville, Tennessee.

Johnson was posthumously promoted to sergeant first class, according to Capt. Rick Dickson, spokesman for the 3rd Special Forces Group.

"Sgt. 1st Class Johnson's courage and dedication to his team were unmatched, engaging a numerically superior hostile force, disrupting the enemy's freedom of maneuver and killing several enemy fighters before succumbing to his wounds," according to the account. "His actions were key in saving the lives of multiple other soldiers."

Johnson, 41, was a native of New Bern, North Carolina. He first joined the Army Reserves in 2007 and was assigned to the 300th Chemical Company in Morgantown, West Virginia, after Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training as a chemical operations specialist at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, according to Dickson.

He then joined the active Army in 2008 and was assigned to the 181st Chemical Company, 2nd Chemical Battalion, at Fort Hood, Texas, Dickson said.

Johnson joined the 3rd Special Forces Group in 2015, where he was assigned to the 14th Chemical Reconnaissance Detachment in the Group Support Battalion, Dickson added.

Johnson's awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal with C Device, Army Commendation Medal (2), Army Achievement Medal (5), Army Good Conduct Medal, Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Niger Cross of Valor with Star, Certificate of Achievement (2), Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge, Driver and Mechanic Badge, Combat Action Badge, Basic Marksmanship Qualification Badge (expert with pistol) and German Armed Forces Marksmanship Badge (Bronze), according to Dickson.

"We are forever indebted to [Sgt. 1st Class] Johnson, who sacrificed his life through his valorous actions to defend his fellow soldiers and this nation," according to the statement from Johnson's unit provided by Dickson. "We continue to offer our support and condolences to his family and loved ones."

The other three U.S. service members killed in the ambush included Sgt. La David T. Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Florida; Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia.

-- Military.com reporter Richard Sisk contributed to this story.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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