Naval Special Warfare Operator Edward Byers was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama on February 29, 2016, in the White House for actions he conducted in the country of Afghanistan on December 5, 2012, while freeing an American hostage from the Taliban.

Byers is the Navy’s most decorated living SEAL and one of only a handful of Medal of Honor awardees still on active duty. The day after he was awarded the MOH by the President, Byers was inducted into the Hall of Heroes in the Pentagon.

Byers was born in Toledo, Ohio and grew up in the tiny village of Tontogany, Ohio where he was a Boy Scout. After joining the Navy in 1998, he spent four years as a Corpsman before volunteering for Naval Special Warfare and graduating BUDS training with Class 242 in 2002.

During his time in the SEALs, Byers was deployed 11 times including nine times for combat tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the recipient of the Bronze Star five times, two with “V” device for combat operations in 2013 and 2014.

Afghanistan, Dec. 2012: An American citizen, Dr. Dilip Joseph who was working for an international aid organization was abducted by the Taliban along with his driver and an Afghan interpreter on December 5, 2012. Intelligence reports indicated that Dr. Joseph might be transported to another location as early as December 9th and that he may be killed. He was being held in a small, single-room building in a remote area beside a mountain in the Qarghah’i District of Laghman Province, Afghanistan.

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The SEALs were launched from their operational base on the night of December 8 and inserted by helicopter. The team had to hike for four hours over mountainous, steep terrain to reach the compound where the Taliban were holding the hostages. Surprise and speed were essential to the SEALS accomplishing their mission and rescuing the hostages unharmed.

As the SEALS neared to within 25 meters of the target building, a Taliban guard became aware of the rescue force. The point man for the SEALs, Petty Officer 1st class Nicolas D. Checque shot at the guard and ran towards the door to make entry as the guard disappeared inside. Chief Byers was the second man in a sprint towards the door, which consisted of six layers of blankets securely fastened to the ceiling and walls. As Byers was ripping down the blankets, Checque pushed his way through the doorway and was immediately shot by a Taliban with AK-47 fire in the room where the hostage was held.

A split second later, Byers burst into the room, shooting dead the Taliban fighter. Byers then tackled and straddled another insurgent who was scrambling to the corner of the where there were rifles on the floor. Byers was trying to adjust his night vision goggles to positively identify whether this man was the hostage, he called out the man’s name. 

When Joseph called out to Byers from across the room, Byers killed the insurgent he was straddling and then jumped atop of Joseph to protect him from harm as is SOP. At the same time, he pinned another Taliban to the wall by his throat until another SEAL shot the terrorist.

Byers spoke to Dr. Joseph, confirming that he was okay and ready to leave. He and his Team Leader identified themselves as  American military. Once Dr. Joseph was moved to the helicopter-landing zone, Byers, a certified paramedic and 18D medic, assisted with the rendering of medical aid to the mortally wounded Checque. Byers and others performed CPR during the 40-minute flight to Bagram Airfield where his teammate was declared deceased.

A month after President Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Byers, he requested to return to his SEAL unit.

Medal of Honor Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a Hostage Rescue Force Team Member in Afghanistan in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM from 8 to 9 December 2012.

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As the rescue force approached the target building, an enemy sentry detected them and darted inside to alert his fellow captors. The sentry quickly reemerged, and the lead assaulter attempted to neutralize him. Chief Byers with his team sprinted to the door of the target building. As the primary breacher, Chief Byers stood in the doorway fully exposed to enemy fire while ripping down six layers of heavy blankets fastened to the inside ceiling and walls to clear a path for the rescue force.

The first assaulter pushed his way through the blankets and was mortally wounded by enemy small arms fire from within. Chief Byers, completely aware of the imminent threat, fearlessly rushed into the room and engaged an enemy guard aiming an AK-47 at him. He then tackled another adult male who had darted towards the corner of the room.

During the ensuing hand-to-hand struggle, Chief Byers confirmed the man was not the hostage and engaged him. As other rescue team members called out to the hostage, Chief Byers heard a voice respond in English and raced toward it. He jumped atop the American hostage and shielded him from the high volume of fire within the small room. While covering the hostage with his body, Chief Byers immobilized another guard with his bare hands and restrained the guard until a teammate could eliminate him. His bold and decisive actions under fire saved the lives of the hostage and several of his teammates.

By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of near-certain death, Chief Petty Officer Byers reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Photos: US Navy