The fighting was furious — and entirely one-sided. While on patrol in eastern Afghanistan’s Paktia province in December 2002, paratroopers from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division had taken a wrong turn and blundered straight into one of Paktia’s isolated villages. The villagers weren’t Taliban or even Taliban sympathizers. But they were heavily armed — and determined to keep the Americans out.
AK-47–armed men opened fire from inside mud huts and behind stone walls. The American commander, recognizing his mistake, ordered his men not to shoot back. Bullets pinged off the doors and roofs of unarmored Humvees. Still, the Americans held their fire. The paratroopers’ restraint, even in the face of mortal danger, was the most incredible thing that one 26-year-old Air Force controller had ever seen.
Eight years later, Tech. Sgt. Phoebus Lazaridis was back in Afghanistan on his third combat tour. He lived alongside soldiers in remote outposts, coordinating air strikes against the Taliban. By 2010, Lazaridis had seen as much war as any American combatant, and had a Bronze Star — pinned on his chest by U.S. House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2009 — to prove it.