In prior Medal of Honor announcements, the White House has released summaries of the recipients actions that led to the medal. In Tuesday’s statement, however, the only nod to Byers’ heroics was that he will receive the medal for “his courageous actions while serving as part of a team that rescued an American civilian being held hostage in Afghanistan on December 8-9, 2012.”
The civilian rescued was Dr. Dilip Joseph, an aid worker who was kidnapped in eastern Kabul and held for approximately a week before a detachment of SEALs killed a number of his captors and rescued him during a nighttime raid. One of the SEALs involved in the raid, Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas D. Checque, was killed.
“It is great to hear he is getting this award,” said Joseph in a phone interview, adding that he believes, though he is not entirely sure, that Byers shielded him by laying on top of him while the rest of the SEAL team killed Jospeh’s five captors in the room.
Joseph added that his encounter with Byers was extremely brief but he was taken aback by how dedicated he was and how willing he was to risk his life for a total stranger.
“The whole operation lasted two minutes,” Joseph said. “I’m honored to have been apart of the whole thing.”
Retired Marine Gen. John Allen, who was the top commander in Afghanistan at the time, said Tuesday that he ordered the mission and watched it unfold from an operations center in Kabul.
“These SEALs performed magnificently in this rescue,” he said. “The Taliban who had kidnapped Dr. Joseph believed that in their remote mountain fastness they were beyond the reach of American power. These SEALs proved once again that the enemies of America is never beyond our reach.”
Allen added that he is proud of both Byers and all Special Operations troops who have fought in Afghanistan. He recalled that watching as Checque’s remains were loaded onto an aircraft at Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul, after he was killed.
“Americans can sleep soundly tonight because warriors like Senior Chief Byers have chosen to serve, and because of men like Nick Checque who are prepared to sacrifice everything for their fellow SEALs and for their country,” Allen said. “I am truly humbled and honored to have had the chance to serve alongside these men.”
Byers was born in Toledo, Ohio and joined the Navy in 1998, according to a bio released by the White House. He started his career as a hospital corpsman–a medic of sorts–and spent time with a Marine infantry unit before trying out for the SEALs.
He graduated from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL course, or BUD/s, in 2002 and deployed more than eight times with various SEAL units based out of the Virginia Beach area.
Byers is the recipient five Bronze Stars with the combat distinguishing “v” device, as well as two Combat Action Ribbons and two Purple Hearts. He is currently finishing his bachelors at Norwich University, a private military university in upstate Vermont and is a licensed paramedic.
The decorated SEAL will be the eleventh living recipient of the Medal of Honor to come out of the war in Afghanistan. Lt. Michael Murphy was the last Navy SEAL to receive the Medal of Honor from the war in Afghanistan, though posthumously. Murphy was killed during Operation Red Wings in 2005. He received the medal for braving enemy fire to make a last ditch satellite phone call to save his pinned down SEAL team and was ultimately killed in the process.
Julie Tate contributed to this report.