Andrew Maholic stood ramrod straight at the front of the room as he listened to how his father sacrificed his life for his Special Forces teammates.
Andrew never took his eyes off a reflection of the American flag in a picture frame at the back of the Heritage Auditorium in the Special Operations Command Headquarters as the narrator read how his father stopped attack after attack by the Taliban.
As tears welled in the eyes of his fathers teammates, friends and commanders, 11-year-old Andrews stayed dry and focused on the flag.
When the narrator finished, Lt. Gen. Robert W. Wagner, commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, presented Andrew with his fathers Silver Star.
Your father is a hero, and you are stronger than I am, Wagner said.
Master Sgt. Thom Maholic was mortally wounded in a June 2006 fire fight.
My dad was very brave to earn this, Andrew said after the ceremony.
He planned to present the medal to his fathers ashes when he got home.
Maholic, Capt. Sheffield Ford III and retired Staff Sgt. Matthew Binney were awarded the Silver Star, the Armys third-highest award for valor, Thursday for their actions during a fire fight in June 2006 against 200 enemy fighters in southern Afghanistan.
Three others Staff Sgt. Charles Lyles, Staff Sgt. Michael Sanabria and Sgt. 1st Class Ebbon Brown were awarded the Bronze Star with V device for valor. All of the soldiers were assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group.
The battle started when Ford, a team leader, led his team and a company of Afghan National Army soldiers into the Panjawi District south of Kandahar on June 23, 2006. The district is home to the Taliban movement.
The team had received reports that the Taliban was forcing Afghans out of the villages in the district; the Special Forces soldiers planned to kill or capture any Taliban in the area.
Operation Kaika started off rocky when the teams vehicles were slowed by tough terrain. The district is made up of vast fields and irrigation ditches that crisscross the dusty plains.
Determined to press on, Ford and his men moved by foot to the compound of a suspected Taliban commander. They seized it and set up a base there.
At nightfall, a large Taliban force attacked with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades from three sides. Ford jumped into the turret of his GMV, a Special Forces Humvee, and started firing at the attackers. Bullets and shrapnel bounced off the turret as he fired.
Another teammate took over on the gun and Ford, exposed to enemy fire, raced around the compound coordinating close air support and encouraging the Afghan Army soldiers to keep fighting until the Taliban withdrew.
The next day, the team located a compound the Taliban was using to stage attacks.
Maholic, the teams operations sergeant, volunteered to clear out the compound with 20 Afghan soldiers. He split his men into two groups and dispatched Binney, a medical sergeant, to set up a machine gun to cover the attack.
Binney took an American military trainer and nine Afghan soldiers with him and set up the machine gun.
Maholic quickly cleared the compound, but a large Taliban group counter-attacked and surrounded both groups. The Taliban also attacked Fords base.
Based on intercepted radio transmissions, the soldiers learned that the Taliban planned to capture the Americans. Ford sent a relief force to Maholic.
When they got to Maholics compound, he ordered them to Binneys position.
Binney and his team were under intense fire. Moving through a hole in a mud wall, they stumbled into a group of Taliban fighters. Both groups were surprised, but Binney and the Americans reacted first with furious fire and hand grenades at close range.
The Taliban pressed their attack, getting close enough to Maholic and Binneys men to yell insults and threats.
As waves of fighters attacked with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades, Maholic scrambled up ladders and raced across rooftops to coordinate the defense. Ignoring the withering fire, he rallied the defenders, inspiring them to fight harder.
Binney continued to beat back the attacking Taliban. Exposing himself to throw a grenade, he was hit in the back of the head. The force of the bullet knocked him to the ground.
Confused and temporarily blinded and deaf, he groped for his weapon and bearings. When he regained his wits, he organized an attack on a Taliban position, but the military trainer was wounded by a rocket propelled grenade.
Binney tried to drag the trainer to safety, but was also hit. The bullets shattered his left shoulder and upper arm. Despite his wounds, Binney continued to encourage the Afghan defenders. He also passed his radio to an interpreter who helped guide the relief force to their position.
Almost surrounded, Maholic spotted a Taliban fighter moving down an alley near the compound. He exposed himself to shoot the fighter when he was mortally wounded. Inspired by Maholic, the Afghan Army soldiers rallied and beat back the Taliban fighters.
When the relief force arrived, Binney ignored his wounds and walked out on his own so medics could focus on the trainer. They evacuated the wounded by helicopter as Ford called in air strikes.
Seventeen hours after the battle started, he led his team out of the district leaving more than 100 Taliban fighters dead in their wake.
Wagner said these man had earned the right to be called heroes.
Think of all the things youve done in your life and in 17 hours look what (they) accomplished, he said.
Staff writer Kevin Maurer can be reached at email@example.com or 486-358