Special Agents Joseph Piersante, Jared Johnson, Justin Vanderbilt, Paul Harris, Brent Poortinga, Matthew Fischer and Matthew Stewart

(Drug Enforcement Administration)

Throughout October 30–31, 2011, in furtherance of the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) drug law enforcement mission in Afghanistan, Special Agents of the DEA's foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team conducted counter-narcotics/counter-insurgency operations with their police partners from the Afghan National Interdiction Unit, assisted by the Australian Defense Forces.

This task force departed their base via four helicopters as part of a mission to execute Afghan drug warrants and to search for narcotics caches and heroin production labs. The team began to search the target area and accompanying opium bazaar when they began to receive sporadic incoming enemy fire. They accomplished their assigned duties and then maneuvered to the extraction location, all while under sporadic enemy fire.

When the task force arrived at the helicopter landing zones, they continued to receive effective enemy fire. One of the four helicopters was forced to make an additional orbit and subsequently land in the vicinity of Special Agents Piersante, Johnson, Vanderbilt, Harris, Stewart, Fischer, and Poortinga and five members from the Australian Special Forces. This helicopter landed under fire.

Special Agent Piersante laid down suppressive fire, which enabled Special Agents Stewart, Harris, and Fischer to board the helicopter. Once inside, Special Agent Stewart continued applying suppressive fire. Special Agent Stewart directed an Afghan door gunner to initiate suppressive fire in an attempt to cover the remaining members of the team still outside the helicopter. Special Agent Piersante was approximately 10 meters from the rear of the helicopter when he was subsequently hit by enemy fire. The round penetrated his ballistic helmet, entered above his right eye and exited above his left eye, and he was immediately rendered unconscious and fell to the ground.

Special Agent Poortinga positioned himself at the rear of the helicopter and continued laying down suppressive fire as Special Agent Piersante was being assisted into the helicopter. He instinctively put himself in harm’s way and returned fire until all personnel were onboard the helicopter. As the helicopter took off, Special Agents Vanderbilt, Johnson, and Harris immediately rendered first aid to Special Agent Piersante and controlled his bleeding, maintained an open airway, and stabilized him. Special Agent Piersante was eventually transferred to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia for continued treatment and rehabilitation. The actions of all the special agents involved both before and following the shooting were clearly heroic.

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