A dozen years ago, Maj. Thomas G. “Tommy” Bostick put his body between enemy bullets and his retreating troops during a firefight in Afghanistan.
The final, fatal act of heroism by the father of two was honored Friday at Fort Carson with the nation’s second-highest medal for combat valor, the Distinguished Service Cross.
“When you boil it down, it is love,” said Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, who flew in from Texas to hand the medal to Bostick’s brother, Bobby, of Colorado Springs, as his widow, children and three grandchildren looked on.
Bostick is the 17th soldier to earn the Distinguished Service Cross after more than 17 years of fighting in Afghanistan. His heroism was originally honored with the Silver Star Medal, a lesser decoration. In a review that followed accounts from his comrades, Bostick was selected for the more uncommon award.
A gifted high school athlete from Llano, Texas, Bostick joined the Army Reserve in 1986 and endured the service’s grueling Ranger training before taking part in the December 1989 invasion of Panama.
He wound up in Afghanistan in 2007 as the commander of “Bulldog” troop from the Germany-based 1st Squadron of the 91st Cavalry Regiment, part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
On July 27, 2007, Bostick’s unit was probing Taliban and al-Qaida forces in mountainous terrain along the Pakistan border when fighting erupted. Part of Bostick’s unit was ambushed, Army records show. The major charged to the rescue.
Shortly after Bostick died, his commander, now retired Col. Christopher Kolenda recalled the major’s confidence as he headed to the fight.
“He even managed to crack a few jokes to keep everyone steady in the heat of the moment,” Kolenda told Stars and Stripes.
Bostick quickly took control of the battle, calling in Air Force bombs and Army artillery on the swarming enemy troops, giving his soldiers time to climb to safety.
But the enemy fighters kept coming. Bostick stayed out front in the fight as his troops sought cover. He faced fire from three directions as the enemy rained down bullets and rocket-propelled grenades, Army records say.
In this moment, when others would seek safety, Bostick stood up with his M-4 rifle.
“As the fire on his position intensified, Maj. Bostick positioned himself between the enemy and his own exposed soldiers, who were navigating mountainous terrain, and engaged the enemy with accurate fire,” a citation accompanying Bostick’s new medal says.
Awarding the Distinguished Service Cross requires commanders to find that, “The act or acts of heroism must be so notable and involve risk of life so extraordinary as to set the individual apart from his or her comrades.”
Funk said medals like the one awarded to Bostick are a reminder for the rest of America.
“In every conflict in our nation’s history, incredible heroes step forward,” he said.
Family members filled the first three rows of the ceremony at which Funk awarded the medal. They didn’t want to talk. A few of them wiped their eyes.
A Fort Carson spokesman said they’re still mourning that terrible day even as they celebrate Bostick’s heroism.
Funk said they remember the Bostick before he proved his valor that day, an “amazing soldier, commander, husband, son, father, brother and friend.”
Even as America seeks to end its role in the Afghanistan war, Bostick’s memory lingers in the Army. He’s buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Before the Distinguished Service Cross was announced, his cavalry squadron held annual events to remember Bostick. The best soldiers in the squadron earn the “Bostick Award,” Funk said.
Bostick represents the kind of sacrifice that amazes even soldiers like Funk, a general who was raised in the Army as the son of a general.
“What makes them lay down their lives?” Funk asked.