Department of Defense (DoD)

President Awards Medal of Honor to Navy SEAL for Hostage Rescue Heroism

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President Awards Medal of Honor to Navy SEAL for Hostage Rescue Heroism
02/29/2016 04:41 PM CST

Click photo for screen-resolution image
President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Honor to Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Edward C. Byers Jr. during a White House ceremony, Feb. 29, 2016. Byers received the medal for actions while serving as part of a team that rescued an American civilian held hostage in Afghanistan in 2012. DoD photo by EJ Hersom

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

President Awards Medal of Honor to Navy SEAL for Hostage Rescue Heroism

By Terri Moon Cronk

DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 29, 2016 — President Barack Obama today awarded the Medal of Honor to Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Edward C. Byers Jr., making him the sixth Navy SEAL in the force’s history to receive the U.S. military’s highest honor.

The White House’s East Room was filled with Byers’ family, friends and special operators from around the world who served with him, as well as special operations forces leaders, Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel; commander of U.S. Special Operations Command; Socom’s deputy commander, Navy Vice Adm. Sean A. Pybus; Navy Rear Adm. Tim Szymanski, assistant commander of Joint Special Operations Command; Navy Rear Adm. Brian L. Losey, commander of U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command; and the command’s force master chief, Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Derrick Walters.

“That’s the brotherhood — the depth of loyalty to service and to mission — that binds these teams,” the president said, noting the special ops community’s presence at the ceremony.

Mission Rescued Civilian American Doctor

Byers, 36, was awarded the prestigious honor for his courageous actions while serving as part of a team that rescued an American civilian doctor who was held hostage in Afghanistan from Dec. 8 to 9, 2012, White House officials said.

Byers, a Toledo, Ohio, native and also a Navy corpsman, became the 11th living service member awarded the Medal of Honor for heroic actions in Afghanistan. He has deployed overseas 11 times, has had nine combat tours, and is two-time recipient of the Purple Heart and a five-time recipient of the Bronze Star with valor, among his many awards.

Hostage in Taliban Hands

The president said the American doctor, who was bringing health care to the Afghan people, was captured and held by Taliban forces in a small, single-room building in a remote valley of a mountainous region.

The doctor lost all hope, Obama said, quoting him as saying, “I was certain, I was about to die.” His captors told him the Americans were not coming for him. “Well, they were wrong,” Obama said. “Whenever Americans are taken hostage in the world, we move heaven and earth to bring them home safe. We send some thunder and some lightning — our special operator forces — folks like Ed Byers.”

When the United States believed a Taliban commander was about to move the hostage to Pakistan, time was of the essence, Obama said. From a remote forward-operating base, Byers and his joint team geared up, boarded their helicopters and launched, he added.

‘Bullets Started Flying’

“Once on the ground, they moved — under the cover of darkness, on that cold December night — through the mountains, down rocky trails for hours,” the president said. “They found their target and moved in, quickly and quietly. When they were less than 100 feet from the building, a guard came out and bullets started flying.

“Our SEALs rushed to the doorway, which was covered by a layer of blankets,” Obama continued. “Ed started ripping them down, exposing himself to enemy fire. A teammate, the lead assaulter, pushed in and was hit. Fully aware of the danger, Ed moved in next. An enemy guard aimed his rifle right at him. Ed fired. Someone moved across the floor — perhaps the hostage, [or] perhaps another guard lunging for a weapon.”

The ensuing struggle was hand-to-hand, and Byers straddled the man, pinning him down, Obama said. Byers adjusted his night-vision goggles, and after gaining better focus, he realized he was on top of a guard.

Obama said the American hostage later described the scene as a dark room suddenly filled with men and the sound of exploding gunfire. Narrow beams of light shot in every direction, and voices called out his name. He answered, “I’m right here.”

Byers Covered Hostage

“Ed leapt across the room and threw himself on the hostage, using his own body to shield him from the bullets,” Obama said. “Another enemy fighter appeared, and with his body, Ed kept shielding the hostage. With his bare hands, Ed pinned the fighter to the wall and held him until his teammates took action. It was over almost as soon as it began.”

In just minutes, by going after the guards, Byers saved the lives of his teammates and the hostage, Obama said. “You’re safe,” Obama said the SEALs told the doctor. “You are with American forces.”

But the success came with a price, the president said. The first SEAL through the door, Byers’ friend Navy Chief Petty Officer Nicolas Checque, was badly wounded and later died. On the helicopter out, Byers stayed with him, performing CPR during the 40-minute flight, the president said. “Today, we salute Chief Petty Officer Nicolas Checque,” Obama said, noting that Checque was one of 70 Naval Special Warfare members — 55 of them SEALs — who have made the ultimate sacrifice since 9/11.

“Small in number, they have borne an extraordinarily heavy load,” the president said. But they continue to volunteer, mission after mission, year after year. I see the difference you make every day — the partners you train, the relationships you forge, the other hostages that you’ve brought home, the terrorists that you take out. I’ve waited, like many of you, in those minutes that seem like hours when the margin between success and failure is razor-thin, for word that the team is out safe. I’ve grieved with you and I’ve stood with you at Dover [Air Force Base in Delaware] to welcome our fallen heroes on their final journey home.”

The U.S. special operations forces are a strategic national asset, teaching the nation that humans are more important than hardware. “Today is a reminder that our nation has to keep investing in this irreplaceable asset, which means deploying our special operators wisely, preserving force and family, making sure these incredible Americans stay strong in body, in mind and in spirit,” Obama said.

Byers Citation: ‘Bold, Decisive Action’

A military aide read Byer’s citation and noted his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”

“His bold and decisive actions under fire saved the lives of the hostage and several of his teammates,” the citation says. “By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of near-certain death, Senior Chief Petty Officer Byers reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)

Related Links

Special Report: The Medal of Honor

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Defense Officials Discuss Flight Safety With Russian Counterparts

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Defense Officials Discuss Flight Safety With Russian Counterparts
02/29/2016 02:03 PM CST

Defense Officials Discuss Flight Safety With Russian Counterparts

DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 29, 2016 — The Defense Department today held a video conference between senior DoD officials and their Russian counterparts to discuss ongoing implementation of the U.S.-Russia memorandum of understanding on flight safety over Syrian airspace, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a statement.

Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Elissa Slotkin and Joint Staff Director for Strategic Plans and Policy Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. co-chaired the call, he said.

The two sides discussed measures to enhance operational safety for coalition and Russian military forces in the fight to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Syria, Cook said, “including the means to avoid accidents and unintended confrontation between coalition and Russian forces whenever the two sides operate in close proximity.”

Cease-Fire Consultations Ongoing

Separate consultations are ongoing through other channels to address the agreement developed Feb. 12 by the International Syria Support Group members in Munich regarding the existing cease-fire, he said.

“Today’s video conference was intended to focus solely on safety issues and was not a forum to discuss issues related to the implementation of the cessation of hostilities agreement,” Cook said.

Today’s meeting follows discussions in January and in October 2015 on the same subject between the Defense Department and the Russian Defense Ministry.

The conversation was constructive, Cook said, and the two sides agreed to continue safety discussions in this format in the future.

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Elissa Slotkin is currently the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security

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Carter: Cease-Fire in Syria Could Be ‘First Step’ in Ending Civil War

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Carter: Cease-Fire in Syria Could Be ‘First Step’ in Ending Civil War
02/29/2016 02:35 PM CST

Carter: Cease-Fire in Syria Could Be ‘First Step’ in Ending Civil War

By Lisa Ferdinando

DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 29, 2016 — The cessation of hostilities in Syria could be a “first step” in ending Syria’s civil war, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said today during a Pentagon news conference.

The agreement, which went into effect over the weekend, could also be a move toward helping the Syrian people, Carter said.

Brokered by the U.S. and Russia, the cessation of hostilities includes the Syrian government, Russia and several rebel factions.

“If properly implemented and adhered to, we believe this cessation can lead to an overall decline in violence and hasten the delivery of humanitarian aid,” Carter said. “It could be a first step towards an end of the civil war and the suffering of the Syrian people.”

Other Issues Require Resolution

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was with Carter at the news conference and said other issues will have to be resolved for the violence to permanently end.

“A lasting peace in Syria is going to require addressing the grievances associated with the civil war and a political process that leads to transition,” Dunford said.

Officials are constantly monitoring the situation on the ground, the defense secretary said. “We will see in coming days if all parties back commitments they have made in words with their actions,” he added.

Carter made it clear the developments would not impact coalition efforts to accelerate the operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The Syrian civil war was one of the causes that led to the creation of ISIL in the first place, he said.

“There is no cessation of hostilities in the counter-ISIL campaign,” Carter said.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)

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Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr.
General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. is the 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s

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Carter Seeks Increased Ties with West Coast Tech Community

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Carter Seeks Increased Ties with West Coast Tech Community
02/29/2016 03:56 PM CST

Carter Seeks Increased Ties with West Coast Tech Community

By Lisa Ferdinando

DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 29, 2016 — Defense Secretary Ash Carter said today he is traveling to the West Coast as part of efforts to strengthen ties with the tech community, expand thinking and strengthen the department against future threats.

The trip, which begins tonight, is meant to “rebuild bridges” with “some of our nation’s most innovative industries, enhancing ties that will strengthen this department and our nation’s security,” Carter said during a Pentagon news conference.

Carter, who is to visit California and Washington, said that over next days, he will be discussing technology, cybersecurity initiatives and other topics with “some of the top minds in the tech world.”

DoD Must Be on Cutting Edge

As the United States faces a number of security challenges, it is important for the Defense Department to be on the cutting edge of technology, he said.

“We don’t have the luxury of choosing which threat we may face next, but we do have the ability to set the course for how best to prepare for the future,” Carter said. “A common theme across our budget is that we in the Pentagon have to innovate and think outside our five-sided box.”

The secretary’s itinerary includes delivering remarks to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco and attending the annual RSA Conference in San Francisco.

In addition to the tech meetings, Carter said, he will meet with troops who are using advanced technologies to keep the nation safe and prepare for “every challenge on the horizon.”

Related Biographies

Ash Carter
Ashton B. Carter is the 25th Secretary of Defense. Secretary Carter has spent more than three

Related Links

Special Report: Science and Technology

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Mobile Disaster Recovery Centers Open in Jackson, Little River Counties

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You are subscribed to Region 6 News for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). This information has recently been updated, and is now available.

Mobile Disaster Recovery Centers Open in Jackson, Little River Counties
02/29/2016 04:40 PM EST

NORTH LITTLE ROCK – Joint federal/state disaster recovery centers will open Tuesday, March 1, 2016, in Jackson and Little River counties to help those whose homes or businesses were affected by the severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds and flooding Dec. 26, 2015 – Jan. 22, 2016.

Language English

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