Air Force pararescueman Staff Sergeant Michael Rogers of the 57th Rescue Squadron was awarded the 2021 Air Force Sergeants Association Pitsenbarger Award for treating seven members of a Special Forces team that were wounded in a blast in Kunduz province in Afghanistan during a 2019 deployment. 

The Air Force special operator was assigned to a Special Forces A-Team (ODA) from the 7th SFG(A) during late 2019. The team was supporting Afghan military units battling the Taliban. It was Rogers’s second deployment to Afghanistan as he had previously been there in 2017. 

The unit came through a village where Taliban fighters launched several rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) at the team as they attacked a Taliban HQs and arms cache that they had located in a former school. 

“We counted over 20 rocket-propelled grenades that were fired at our convoy, and two RPGs went right across the hood of our vehicle as we were trying to return fire,” Rogers remembered in an interview.

“There were piles and piles of radio equipment and different kinds of electronics, Taliban propaganda, and about 50 to 60 pounds of homemade explosives,” he added. “Ammunition for all different kinds of weapons, mortars, and stacks of rocket boosters were also found there.”

American troops in Afghanistan wait for helicopters during operations. (USAF)

Rogers and the SF communication sergeant were sorting through a veritable treasure trove of intelligence when the ODA’s intelligence sergeant asked them to leave the room. That move possibly saved Rogers’s life. As he moved out of the area, he observed the SF operations and intelligence sergeant, an SF radio operator, and the SF engineer sergeant go through the papers and explosives. Then, suddenly, through his night-vision goggles (NVGs), he saw a tremendous flash, followed by two explosions. 

“We then felt the concussive force from the explosion and immediately thought we were under attack, so we prepared to fire back.”

It wasn’t an attack, but an accidental discharge (AD) by one of the Afghan allied forces into the pile of RPG rounds. In his interview, Rogers described the scene of the fire as “apocalyptic.” Everything was covered in fuel.

Rogers and the SF medical sergeant then leaped into action trying to save the lives of their Green Beret teammates. “The SF medic and I started going through the mass-casualty procedures because we knew there had been a bunch of guys near the blast,” Rogers explained. “The engineer was blown over and down into a ditch, and appeared to be unconscious. The communications sergeant was set on fire with RPG fuel after it exploded near him.”

Searching through the wreckage of the building and the flames, Rogers found the intelligence sergeant, SFC Michael Goble, who had been blown two meters away from the explosion. He was in bad shape. The communication sergeant was able to smother out the flames on his uniform and helped Rogers drag SFC Goble outside the building. 

SFC Goble from 1st Bn, 7th SFG(A) was mortally wounded in the blast in Afghanistan during an operation in 2019. (U.S. Army)

The flames on SFC Goble’s uniform began setting off ammunition in his kit. Fearing his grenades would then cook-off, Rogers and the commo sergeant began ripping off his kit. In doing so, the communication sergeant’s uniform reignited. SFC Goble had suffered terrible blast injuries. A Tactical Air Control Party member arrived and began placing tourniquets on three of SFC Goble’s limbs. 

They administered three different IV bags into SFC Goble but it wasn’t enough. There were six other troops wounded in the explosion. Rogers helped treat all seven wounded men while calling in a MEDEVAC. 

“We kept trying to resuscitate the intelligence sergeant as best we could on the way to the hospital,” Rogers said. “After about 30 minutes at the hospital, [the medical staff] assessed his condition and determined he just wasn’t sustainable.”

Goble passed away during the night. Rogers stayed with him the rest of the night as his team came to pay their respects.

“[Goble] was an ultimate professional,” Rogers said. “He’s definitely the best intel operator I’ve ever known. He was key to ours and the Afghan’s success that winter. Being able to hold that region… a large portion of it was due to his efforts. He really cared and believed in his mission.”

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While Michael Rogers was awarded the 2021 Air Force Sergeants Association Pitsenbarger Award for his heroic efforts that night in Afghanistan, he was quick to deflect the honor to his teammates. 

“Everybody that was there was passionate about their job and doing it right. This loss wrecked our team. Losing families, losing a brother. Those men I was with are our absolute heroes, and I would fight alongside them any day, anywhere.”

The Pitsenbarger Award is named for SSGT William H. Pitsenbarger, an Air Force PJ posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism in helping save some 60 soldiers caught in an ambush on April 11, 1966.