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Sergeant Earns 4th Bronze Star

FORT BENNING, GA Sergeant First Class John Melson received the Bronze Star with “V” device for valor in August for his actions more than four years ago as a member of a 10-man team that fought off a Taliban ambush of more than 250 fighters in Gerani, Afghanistan.

“I am thankful and extremely grateful for this recognition,” says Melson, a member of the Massachusetts Army National Guard who is now a Ranger instructor for the Army National Guard Warrior Training Center’s Ranger Training and Assessment Course. “It was the combined actions of my team that day that assisted me in my success. I am thankful that my team and I shot straighter that day.”

The honor was given to Melson at a ceremony at Fort Benning, GA. The fourth-highest decoration for combat valor, it is also the fourth Bronze Star of Melson’s career.

In May 2009, Melson and his team, along with 13 Afghan National Police, were attacked by the Taliban fighters. 

Melson manned a .50 cal machine gun atop an armored Humvee, using it to destroy several enemy fighting positions while machine-gun fire, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades rained down on his vehicle.

As the firefight continued, the driver of Melson’s Humvee lost control of the vehicle, falling off the road and into an irrigation canal, causing the vehicle to flip and take on water.

Melson leapt from the vehicle and led efforts to get it upright, saving the driver who had been trapped within. After helping to recover the vehicle and its driver, Melson returned to the .50 cal machine gun, providing fire that gave the team time to drive away from the ambush. During the fight, Melson and his team killed more than 50 Taliban fighters.

Melson says he never stopped to consider his actions during the ambush. “From what I can remember, there really wasn’t much of a thought process,” he says. “It was just doing what was right, and what was right to me was to not leave anybody behind.”

Melson’s previous Bronze Stars were awarded for actions over the course of six deployments. Melson has also received two Purple Hearts, seven Army Commendation Medals (two of which are marked with a “V” device) and an Army Achievement Medal.

“My entire career up to this point has been an amazing run,” he says. “I know I must have a guardian angel, or God has a plan for me that I just haven’t figured out yet.”

Melson was presented the Bronze Star by Lieutenant General William Ingram Jr., the director of the Army National Guard. During the ceremony, Ingram said Melson’s sacrifices could never be adequately rewarded.

“Our nation can never fully repay you for the actions and the sacrifices you voluntarily made throughout your multiple deployments,” Ingram said. “Your actions in May 2009 embody the Soldier’s Creed. On behalf of the nation, the United States Army and the Army National Guard, it is my honor to recognize your bravery and selfless service with the presentation of the Bronze Star with ‘V’ device.”

Of his six deployments, Melson says the 2009 combat tour stands out to him because of his team’s ability to change the attitude of the enemy. “The enemy saw us as a soft target, but during our tour there, we quickly changed their opinion of us,” he says. “This tour was an amazing tour, and I was lucky to be teamed up with the guys that I was.”

Melson served three years in the Marines, from 1989 to 1992, before leaving. After the events of 9/11, however, Melson says he felt compelled to return to military service and did so by joining the Massachusetts Guard.

“I was attending college full time … 9/11 happened, and I watched it live in the cafeteria,” he says. “At the time, I knew something was wrong. I tried 
to enlist that same day, and later on that night, I found out that 
a childhood friend that I grew up playing hockey with was on the flight coming from Boston. I just felt it was something I had to do.”

Since enlisting with the National Guard, Melson has completed Ranger School and attended Airborne and Air Assault Schools, the Military Mountaineering Course and the Combat Advisor Course. 

Despite his six combat tours, Melson says he is ready to fight again if called upon. “Our country is at war, so if I have the opportunity to go back, that’s what I’m trained to do—fight the enemy,” he says. “I’m probably better served by being overseas fighting the enemy than staying here stateside.”

– Nick Duke and Massachusetts National Guard