On the morning of 6 April 2008, a pair of American Chinook helicopters zoomed in low over the Shok Valley in the unforgiving mountains of rural Afghanistan. This impenetrable, rocky ravine was unfamiliar and unfriendly territory to the Western powers – a heavily-fortified network of caves laced the canyon walls, concealing a massive network of terrorist freedom-and-pie-hating insurgents from the prying eyes of Allied warplanes and satellites. No NATO force had ever dared venture into this daunting region, and even the Soviets had been repeatedly turned away from this area by determined Mujahedeen fighters when the Russkies had launched their ill-fated invasion in the 80s. Today, things would be different.
Staff Sergeant Seth E. Howard of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces wasn’t impressed by this harsh bastion’s seemingly-terrifying reputation. He was a fucking Green Beret. He was part of the same unit as uber-yet-fictional badass John Rambo, and the rest of the world had to worry about him. Not the other way around.
The treacherous, rocky canyon floor wasn’t conducive to setting down a couple of giant twin-propellered transport choppers, but the twelve men of Howard’s Special Forces team couldn’t have cared less if you’d paid them to. These ridiculous hardasses just strapped on sixty pounds of battle gear, grabbed their rifles, and fucking jumped ten feet down from the chopper door to the uneven rocks below. They didn’t even use ropes or anything, because apparently things like “safety” and “not breaking your ankles” is for total pussies.
With the men on the ground, the choppers took off and headed for home. The team broke into two squads – one group, led by the unit’s commanding officer Captain Kyle Walton, began working their way up a narrow mountain pass towards a nearby village known to be a bastion of the afore-mentioned terrorist guerillas. Howard stayed on the canyon floor, keeping an eye out for possible Taliban snipers, while the command squad worked their way towards their objective.
Well when you're a heavily-armed guerilla fighter, you don't spend twenty years living in a place like the Shok Valley without preparing for the possibility of being attacked by some badass commandos. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a few hundred guerilla troops opened fire on the Americans with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades, slingshots, handguns, sniper rifles, and Super Soaker 9000s (the most badass of all super soakers). The opening salvo struck the Afghani interpreter attached to the Special Forces command squad, killing him instantly and sending the poor guy face-first into the dirt like a lump of meat. Captain Walton and the rest of his team scrambled for cover, but were basically completely fucked, sitting out in the open while an entire army of insurgents used their gourds for target practice.
Well screw that. From his position at the bottom of the canyon, Seth Howard decided it was time to show those motherfuckers what it felt like to be on the receiving end of a running ballnock of Democracy. He grabbed his weapons – a totally sweet sniper rifle, a combat knife, and an 84mm recoilless rifle, and went to work turning terrorist brains into giant grayish-colored cranial explosions.
Now, before we go a whole lot further, let me clarify something. I assume that everybody who reads this website knows what a sniper rifle is, but before you go thinking that a “recoilless rifle” is some kind of sissy cross between a bolt-action .22 and a BB gun, here’s a picture to illustrate what this weapon looks like:
This isn’t a dinky paintball gun, my friends. It’s a fucking rocket launcher. So Sgt. Howard was out there switching between anti-personnel and high-explosive weapons like a frenetic first-person shooter protagonist, blasting terrorist fortifications with insane death missiles and using his badass sniper weapon to pick off anybody stupid enough to stick their heads out from their hiding places. When he wasn’t killing people personally with some random variety of pain-causing instrument of asskickery, he was coordinating gunfire on the Taliban positions, repositioning the remaining members of his squad, or dunking the fuck out of a basketball.
Thanks in no small part to Sgt. Howard’s powers of asskickery, the command squad was able to get to cover in a small cave near the top of the pass. Unfortunately, while the initial threat of being overwhelmed by superior numbers had temporarily subsided, shit was still looking pretty bleak for Captain Walton and his homedogs. Guys were taking hits all over the place, enemy reinforcements were rolling in, Walton’s rifle barrel had been blown in half, and the command squad was in a very real danger of being overrun by the guerillas. Shit, at one point one of the Special Forces operators had the lower half of his leg blown off in an explosion (in an insanely epic act of badassitude, the guy actually used his boot laces to tie the leg onto his thigh so he wouldn’t lose it and then just kept on fighting. How hardcore is that?), and yet another member of the team was also critically wounded by shrapnel and gunfire. Howard soon realized he was going to need to bust a move and do something epic if he was going to save his team members.
So Sergeant Seth Howard flipped out like the hardcore assbeater that he was, jumped out from behind his cover, and ran along the edge of a 60-foot high cliff towards his wounded allies. Bullets were flying all over the place, fucking shit is exploding like nuts, and he’s firing from the hip in the general vicinity of the enemy while sprinting towards his imperiled team members and doing his best to not plummet to his death below.
Luckily, this berserking Green Beret was more bulletproof than a Steven Segal movie, and he reached the small cave where the wounded men were taking cover and tenaciously fighting for their lives. With dozens of kill-crazy guerilla fighters bearing down on the Americans’ position, Sgt. Howard unhesitatingly rushed forward and placed himself between his wounded comrades and the enemy. He pushed ahead, alternately taking cover behind the body of the incredibly-dead interpreter and a small, 12-inch-high boulder, all the while directing accurate sniper and rocket fire on the oncoming rebel hordes with his one-man arsenal of balls-out terrorist nut-destruction.
Special Forces soldiers at the Shok Valley
Meanwhile, the rest of the command team had formulated a daring plan – they were going to make a break for it. The seriously jacked-up soldiers started making their way down the sheer cliff face towards the floor of the canyon, nearly 60 feet below. While Captain Walton and his team began evacuating the wounded, Sgt. Howard kept up his fire on the enemy, trying to draw their attention away from the wounded Americans. He knew that eventually the Taliban were going to need to pay attention to the ripshit pissed-off motherfucker with the bazooka. He was right. This one-man demolition derby was blasting fortified positions with rockets, popping dudes’ heads off with his rifle, and marking targets for US air strikes, which were now being called down almost directly on top of his position. Shit, at one point, a 2,000-pound bomb landed about 300 feet away from him and nearly blew him off the edge of the cliff, but a little something like “almost becoming human charcoal” wasn’t going to deter this guy from his mission. He continued providing suppressing fire while the command team made its way down, destroying several enemy weapons teams and wasting over 20 enemy troops – including 4 highly-trained Taliban snipers.
Even though he was almost completely out of bullets, Howard continued to defend his position, single-handedly holding off the insurgent fighters while the rest of his team escaped. It was only after the command squad was at the extraction point that he began to pull back, making his way down the cliff to safety and using the bombs from the F-15s and Apache Gunships as cover. He would wait for the explosions, and then move during the confusion. Bombs were going off everywhere, and this guy was like fucking Stallone running in slow motion in front of a fiery explosion in some kind of over-the-top awesome action movie. He eventually made it down to the LZ and was extracted with the rest of his team.
For their insane actions battling terrorists in the Shok Valley, the members of the 3rd Special Forces were awarded 10 Silver Stars – the most issued in a single day since the Vietnam War. Six soldiers were wounded – four critically – but they took down over 200 of the enemy, with Sergeant Seth Howard personally accounting for dozens of enemy troops, snipers, and RPG nests. For successfully preventing the command squad from being overrun by the enemy on two separate occasions, Howard also won the Silver Star – the third highest award for bravery offered by the United States.
More importantly, every member of his unit survived the battle.
Army Times Story
Silver Star Citation