As a crowd gathered Thursday to celebrate former Fort Carson Capt. Andrew Bundermann’s receiving the nation’s second-highest medal for valor, he didn’t feel much like celebrating.
The officer who led a cavalry troop through Fort Carson’s deadliest day earned the Distinguished Service Cross for repeatedly risking his life to turn back enemy moves and to keep in communication with the artillery and air power that allowed his outnumbered unit to survive a furious attack by more than 300 Taliban fighters.
But a decade after the battle for Combat Outpost Keating, Bundermann called his reception at an arena on the University of Minnesota campus “the most conflicting thing” as he recalled the eight soldiers who died in the 12-hour firefight Oct. 3, 2009.
Instead of celebrating, Bundermann said the Distinguished Service Cross gives him a pause for remembering Justin Gallegos, Christopher Griffin, Kevin Thomson, Michael Scusa, Vernon Martin, Stephan Mace, Joshua Kirk and Joshua M. Hardt.
“It gives an opportunity to honor those gentlemen,” said Bundermann, who is now out of the Army and working as a regional manager for a Minnesota packaged foods company.
Bundermann initially earned the Silver Star Medal for his heroism in leading the 53 soldiers trapped at Keating. A Pentagon review last year resulted in his medal being boosted to the Distinguished Service Cross, one of only 19 that have been given during more than 17 years of war in Afghanistan.
The honor adds to the pile of decorations earned by the soldiers from his B Troop, part of the 4th Infantry Division’s 3rd Squadron of the 61st Cavalry Regiment. The unit earned two Medals of Honor, another Distinguished Service Cross, seven Silver Star Medals, 18 Bronze Star Medals and 37 Army Commendation Medals for Valor. That’s 66 medals for 53 soldiers, making Bundermann’s troop easily the most-decorated unit for Afghanistan fighting.
Bundermann said it’s a record that would have been difficult for him to imagine while training at Fort Carson before heading to war.
“I wouldn’t have expected the valor to ever come up,” he said.
Medals for valor never happen on a good day in the Army. Bundermann said even in other firefights, his soldiers weren’t called to show so much courage.
But Oct. 3, 2009, was a bad day that started early. After midnight, residents started clearing out of a village near the outpost in eastern Afghanistan. The outpost was fit tightly between the walls of a river valley, giving its troops little room to maneuver when enemy fire rained in before sunrise.
Some of the first rocket-propelled grenades and mortar rounds took out the unit’s generator, which killed the unit’s main radio. Bundermann knew his troops would die unless he could bring in artillery fire, Army helicopters and Air Force planes to tackle the enemy troops.
Risking his life, he set up a satellite dish for communications.
He did much more that day, maneuvering his troops and making hard calls. One of the tougher decisions Bundermann made was to turn American firepower on the nearby village, destroying buildings the enemy was using as headquarters.
Bundermann also realized that the enemy would be able to squeeze his small unit to death unless he led an counterattack. That’s a tough call when most of the 27 soldiers who would earn the Purple Heart Medal that day had been wounded.
But he knew his soldiers from months of fighting overseas and training at home. They were experts at taking the fight to their enemies.
“Soldiers do not surprise me when they run to gun,” he said Thursday.
Bundermann’s soldiers pushed their enemies back. The move bought the unit time as American airpower roared in to turn the battle. Nearly half of the Taliban attackers were dead by the end.
But there was more to valor than killing that day. The Americans including Bundermann also worked to save lives. During the fighting, Bundermann, with the help of medics and an IV hose, pumped his blood directly into one of his wounded soldiers.
Bundermann has a simple explanation for the valor he showed and the blood he gave. It’s a part of being a commander that the Army doesn’t write down in field manuals.
“I love those guys,” he said.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240 Twitter: @xroederx