Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Heroes Amongst Us: Lt. Neil Prakash

The Times of India, reports on the Silver Star awarded to Lt. Neil Prakash:

For courage under fire, the India-born Prakash, a tank platoon leader from the 2nd Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment of the US Army, was awarded with the Silver Star Medal, one of the US military's highest honours, last week.

The Silver Star is awarded "For Gallantry in Action Against an Opposing Armed Force," and its prominent recipients include Senators John Kerry and John McCain, both in Vietnam.

According to a US Army website that first reported the event, Prakash's show of bravery began on the morning of June 24 when his unit was deployed near Baqubah. His company, with Prakash's 1st Platoon in the lead, was tasked with
seizing and securing a set of twin bridges and to prevent the enemy from reinforcing.

Here's how the website described some of the action: Because enemy dismounts were attempting to throw hand grenades into the tank's open hatches, Prakash ordered the tanks to open protected mode -- bringing the hatches down, leaving them open only a crack. As the lead vehicle, Prakash's tank took the brunt of the attack, sustaining blasts from multiple IEDs and at least seven standard and armour piercing RPGs. One round blew the navigation system completely off, while another well-aimed blast disabled his turret.

Although unable to rotate the turret, Prakash continued in the lead, navigating with a map and manoeuvring his tank in order to continue engaging the enemy with the main weapon system and his .50 calibre machine-gun. He watched as
men on rooftops sprayed down at his tank with machine-guns and small arms.

"I just remember thinking, 'I hope these bullets don't go in this one inch of space,'" said Prakash.

"Looking out the hatch, I'm spraying guys and they're just falling. They would just drop - no blood, no nothing. We just kept rolling, getting shot at from everywhere."

The platoon was finally ordered to turn around and head back north in order to maintain contact with the enemy and to establish a defensive perimeter, allowing a recovery team to retrieve a downed vehicle.

But Prakash, who is only 24, wasn't done yet. After returning to base for repairs and medical evacuations, he and his crew immediately moved back into position and requested to resume the lead in a Dil Maange More moment evocative of the Kargil battles. They went back and re-engaged the insurgents.

By battle's end, the platoon was responsible for 25 confirmed destroyed enemy and an estimated 50 to 60 additional destroyed enemy personnel, the US Army said. Prakash was personally credited with the destruction of eight enemy strong-points, one enemy re-supply vehicle, and multiple enemy dismounts.

"An incredible officer, his accomplishments on 24 June are clearly heroic," the First Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. John R S Batiste said of Prakash after pinning the medal on him on January 16 at a forward base. "He sets a very high standard for every one of us. I guarantee veterans of the past are standing very tall right now."

Prakash, who comes from a family of doctors (his mother, father and older brother are all physicians) was set to follow in their footsteps at Johns Hopkins when he attended an orientation course for reserves. He was awed by a stylish colonel in a Stetson and spurs and resolved to join the forces. Although born in India and maintaining strong ties to the Indian community, he was raised in Syracuse, New York, in what he says is a very patriotic American household.

Prakash, who maintains a web log under the name Armor Geddon, remained quiet about the Silver Star, till the news spread this week. "Well, a soldier in my battalion came up to me and said, 'Congratulations Sir. I didn't even find out through Battalion. I had to find out on the Ist ID website'" Prakash wrote on his blog on Friday. "So I felt like a jerk." Someone didn't tell him.

They don't give Silver Stars to jerks.



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