Master Sgt. Anthony S. Pryor of Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group is the type of man they make movies about. Only he’s the type of solider that can kill four insurgents–one in hand to hand combat–and never mention it to anyone, not even his own team.
In January 2002, with Operation Enduring Freedom having just begun, small groups of Americans were being deployed on covert missions all over Afghanistan. These men moved quickly and without the full support of the American military machine, which was still in Kabul, the so-called Global War on Terror.
On Jan. 23, 2002, U.S. Central Command sent Pryor and his group to conduct raid an al-Qaeda compound in southern Afghanistan.
They were to take an old school house while the insurgent inside slept. But that didn’t happen. Someone was awake, and as the commandos entered the enclosure, the shooting started.
“After the initial burst of automatic weapons fire, we returned fire in the breezeway,” Sgt. 1st Class Scott Neil, told an Army reporter. “It was a mental spur – after we heard the words ‘let’s go,’ everything just kind of kicked in.”
Pryor and one other commando moved forward, and into a doorway. As they did, an insurgent stepped through the door. Pryor shot him and entered the room alone.
“I went in, and there were some windows that they were trying to get their guns out of to shoot at our guys that hadn’t caught up yet,” Pryor said. “So I went from left to right, indexed down and shot those guys up. I realized that I was well into halfway through my magazine, so I started to change magazines. Then I felt something behind me….”
Pryor assumed it was his teammate, the one who had been with him in the doorway. It wasn’t. “That’s when things started going downhill.”
I’d forgive you if you were surprised by Pryor’s assessment of when, exactly, things “started going downhill.” It wasn’t when the mission was compromised, or when the automatic gunfire started, or even when he had to kill a man who was trying to kill him.
The man behind Pryor, though–he wasn’t friendly. He hit Pryor with something that broke his collarbone and dislocated his shoulder, and Pryor fell to the floor.
“[He] jumped on my back, broke my night-vision goggles off and started getting his fingers in my eyeballs,” Pryor remembered. “I pulled him over, and when I hit down on the ground, it popped my shoulder back in.”
When he stood again, it was to fight this man. Pryor killed him, barehanded.
“I was trying to feel around in the dark for my night-vision goggles, and that’s when the guys I’d already killed decided that they weren’t dead yet.”
With the initial threat neutralized, Pryor was able to go back to his rifle and dispatch the other two men in the room.
“As soon as he left that room, he came running up to me and wanted to know if everybody was okay,” Neil recalled. “He never mentioned anything about what went on … and during the whole objective and as the firefight continued, he never stopped.”
At the end of the mission, 21 insurgents were dead. All of the Americans were alive.
Pryor was awarded the Silver Star in 2007. Maj. Gen. Geoffrey C. Lambert, commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Forces Command, praised Pryor, saying, “This is the singular hand-to-hand combat story that I have heard from this war. When it came time to play, he played, and he did it right.”
“Receiving this award is overwhelming, but… this isn’t a story about one guy,” Pryor told an Army reporter. “It’s a story about the whole company instead of an award on the chest. If the guys hadn’t done what they were supposed to do, [the mission] would’ve been a huge failure.”
It is this sort of spirit that has made this country great. Humility. And it makes us like Pryor even more.
“I just did what I had to do,” he said. “It wasn’t a heroic act – it was second-nature. I won, and I moved forward.”