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.