Life of a soldierPublished 9:02pm Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Atmore native Benjamin Daniel has served in the United States Army for 12 years, but an act of bravery last year in Afghanistan may have been the defining moment of his service.
“I would like to think I did what any soldier in my position with my training would hae done,” Daniel said of his actions last June – actions that not only earned him the Bronze Star, but saved the lives of American soldiers and civilians stationed overseas.
Daniel, who graduated from Escambia Academy in 1995 said he joined the army because he felt it was the best way for him to contribute something important to society.
“I joined after I finished college and I just wasn’t moving up fast enough in the career field so I looked into the military and got a good deal with the army,” Daniel said. “It was an opportunity to better myself, so I joined and have been going since.”
Daniel said the army was a good fit, but nine months after he joined, September 11, 2001 changed the dynamic of his deployment in Germany.
“My first duty assignment was in Germany and when I got there in August, no bases were closed down like they are now,” Daniel said. “You could come and go as you pleased. After September, 11, we pretty much went into lockdown from November of 2001 until January of 2003.”
In 2003 Daniel was reassigned and deployed to Iraq as part of the first waves of troops to be part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I did that for 16 months straight,” he said.
Following his tour in Iraq, Daniel said he spent two and half years working as a recruiter back home in Alabama, before once again being deployed overseas.
“After recruiting I was sent to Korea for a year,” he said. “I came back to the states to go to school. I went through officer candidate school at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia.”
Daniel said after school, he was sent back to Iraq, this time as an officer specializing in logistics, maintenance and munitions.
“What was interesting about this deployment is I was on the first deployment to Iraq in the beginning and then the unit I was with this time was responsible for all the moving pieces that cleared everything out of Iraq, so I was on the beginning and on the last tour that came to Iraq,” Daniel said. “I was in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.”
Daniel said he broke his leg during his second tour in Iraq during an accident and was able to return home for recuperation, but was unaware that possibly his biggest test as a soldier lay ahead.
“I got medically cleared and was called in on the SFAT (Security Forces Advising Team) mission,” Daniel said. “There was 47 teams made up of 12 to 18 people. We were the first advisors that were sent over to do nothing but advise brigade and battalion staff of how they are supposed to function. I was in Shah Wali Aoe (Afghanistan).”
There, Daniel said, just on a mission where he was slated as an advisor, he and his teammates carried out the actions that won them the Bronze Star awards.
“The base we were at is a base that had soldiers and civilians living and working,” he said. “It also had an Afghan Army compound attached to it.”
Daniel said he was assigned to advise a mission that involved taking Afghan Army troops off base to search for members of the Taliban, but a surprise attack on the compound changed the dynamic of the situation.
“We were taking members of the AA to a mountain side to look for Taliban,” Daniel said. “Because I’m the logistical officer I was staying back to make sure food and water got where it needed to go. Right as the last helicopter lifts off, the insurgents attacked.”
Daniel said, with many AA troops now off base, the compound was severely undermanned.
“Instead of having 200 soldiers on base, we only had 75 to 125,” he said. “Everybody that was still left, congregated into the bunkers, which is the normal drill.”
Daniel said it was in those bunkers that he and three other soldiers were able to organize an offensive and “take out” two insurgents opening fire on both soldiers and civilians alike.
“There wasn’t really any clear guidance to come down on what we should do next,” he said. “At that time they told us right outside the walls were two Taliban positions. They were still shooting. We maneuvered around and got within ten to 15 feet from where they were positioned.”
After confirming the insurgents were indeed still a threat, Daniel said he and his men made the decision to do what was necessary to ensure the safety of the people inside the base.
“They both started shooting and were still capable of inflicting harm,” he said. “Once we got the okay, we took them out.”
As grim as the operation may seem, information handed down from the U.S. Army recognized Daniel’s actions “not only neutralizedthe enemy,” but also “saved the lives of many Americans.”
In addition to the Bronze Star, which Daniel was awarded in recognition of his efforts during the entire tour in Afghanistan, he was also awarded the Army Commendation Medal specifically for his actions that day, June, 19, 2012.
Although proud to have served his country, Daniel said he was simply doing his job.
“I looked at it as prideful that somebody thought highly enough of me and the job that I was doing that they would put me in for that high of an award,” he said. “But at the same time, when I look back I would do what any soldier would do.”
Now promoted to Captain, Daniel is back in the states at Fort Carson, Colo. with his wife of six years, Heathe. Daniel, who lost both his mother, Vicki, and his father Buddy within two years during his time in the military, said it is nice to back home with family. He added that he has even been able to use those experiences to help other soldiers deal with loss.
“The army has programs set up if you’ve lost a parent or child and you’re having a tough time,” he said. “I went to a couple of months of grief counseling, so when dad passed I just went back to those techniques. Because of those classes, a couple years later, one of my soldier’s mom died and I was able to talk to him about and get him help and be there for him.”
Daniel still has family in the Atmore area and his sister, Jessica Allen, said they could not be more proud of him.
“It has been scary,” she said. “When we got the news that there had been an attack on his camp in Afghanistan it was just scary. We didn’t hear from him for two or three days. But, we’re proud of him. Very proud.”