California Native SSG Joe Hamilton Earns Bronze Star with Valor for Heroism While Serving in Afghanistan

A photo of California Native SSG Joe Hamilton serving in Afghanistan.

A photo of California Native SSG Joe Hamilton serving in Afghanistan. Democrat Photo

The odds were against them. Their platoon was overwhelmed by an enemy force which had targeted them after placing themselves at an angle to attack from which would restrict most of the platoons weapons systems and attacking at the most vulnerable spot on the route they had to travel to get back to the hasty Patrol Base which they had set up. They had generally had contact with the enemy almost every time they went out. But during this exchange, the enemy attacked with unusual coordination and firepower. With his platoon pinned down and unable to fire back effectively, SSG Joe Hamilton deliberately exposed himself without flinching and drew sniper and machine gun fire. Hamilton would not waiver and remained in the exposed position while driving back the enemy with deadly accurate fire. He defied the odds and forced the overwhelming attackers to retreat. Later reports would confirm several enemy dead and wounded.

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California Native SSG Joe Hamilton with wife Janette wearing his Bronze Star with Valor for Heroism and third Purple Heart he earned for his selfless actions while serving in the Army in Afghanistan.

Hamilton, who is from California, in response to his brave and selfless actions which saved the lives of many U.S. and Coalition forces, was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor for Heroism.

"It was not a difficult decision to make at the time," Hamilton said. "I remember thinking I had gotten in over my head, but there was no turning back. I stayed in the position because, I'm not sure, I just felt like it was where I needed to be. I have had the honor of witnessing bravery in combat on numerous occasions and have known some incredible men. When I think to those examples I don't think what I did was all that amazing or out of the ordinary. I think it is what I was supposed to do. It is possible I reflected, even for a split second, on the examples set for me in the past which drove me."

Hamilton said as he was firing from his exposed position he could see things changing on the battlefield and "coming together." They gained the necessary momentum to overcome the situation. He said part of staying where he was may have been to show courage in the face of the enemy and instilling confidence and pride in his troops and the Afghan National Army soldiers.

Hamilton joined the Army in 2004. He said several reasons led him to join including his father serving in the military (Navy), being encouraged to join to bring structure and direction to his life when as he put it he, "had somewhat of a colorful past and had gotten into some trouble and dropped out of school."

Hamilton joined the Army specifically because the branch provided the most options in terms of specialties. Hamilton added he chose Combat Arms because he supposed he wanted the "thrill." Looking back Hamilton said it was one of the most important decisions he has ever made as the Army gave him a place to grow up and start over.

During his eight years, Hamilton has spent it exclusively with the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, N.Y. This is the most deployed Light Infantry Division in the Army. He said while most who serve "see the world," Hamilton got to see just about every region in Afghanistan. When not deployed, they train constantly. Something to which Hamilton said he did not understand as much when he was younger, but would not have it any other way now.

"Out of the eight years with the 10th Mountain Division," Hamilton said. "Just over 40 months have been spent completing combat tours in Afghanistan. When we were back we would spend three to four months in the field training throughout the course of a year. My experience throughout these eight years has been both good and bad, and extreme in both aspects at times. I wouldn’t change any of it. It means a great deal to me to have served in the Army and with my Platoon. I like to think that I received the award on behalf of my platoon, and all the great men I served with. I think they all earned it a hundred times over. They went above and beyond on a daily basis, and several have earned awards for their achievements and acts of courage. I wish I could give it to all of them. I can’t say enough great things about the men I served with."

As a 20 year old Sergeant, Hamilton served as an artillery gunner and section chief, as well as an infantry team leader and squad leader, he spent 12 months attached to B Company 2-87 Infantry in Bermel, Afghanistan, where over the course of that time his two-gun platoon fired over 7,100 rounds of 105mm howitzer ammunition during 130 counter-rocket missions involving 226 troops which resulted in over 120 confirmed enemy killed in action (KIA) and 63 wounded in action (WIA). They also conducted over 125 mounted and dismounted patrols.

During a four-month extension in which they transitioned to an infantry maneuver platoon, their patrols were responsible for 45 enemies KIA and 23 WIA.

In January 2009, after being promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant and again deployed to Afghanistan he operated out of what would later be known as Combat Outpost (COP) McClain in the Logar province. As an infantry squad leader, Hamilton led well over 200 mounted and dismounted patrols. He also participated in numerous direct action missions with US and foreign Special Operations Forces in the Logar province.

His platoon personally confirmed over 20 enemy KIA and the seizure of more than 12 critical enemy weapons caches. SSG Hamilton was also selected as the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) responsible for the training program of a Jordanian light infantry Battalion and was commended by General level officers of the Jordanian Army for their marked improvement.

In September 2009 SSG Hamilton’s vehicle was struck by a 300-pound pressure plate Improvised Explosive Device (IED). He sustained a fractured tailbone, dislocated shoulder, and a traumatic brain injury. Despite his injuries, he continued to serve at COP McClain in the Tactical Operations Center. As the battle NCO, he was responsible for coordinating all movements, patrols and air assets within the unit’s area of responsibility. SSG Hamilton redeployed with his men in December 2009 to Fort Drum.

Upon returning to Fort Drum, SSG Hamilton attended and graduated from the advanced leader course with an academic average of 98.6 percent and the highest Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) score in his class.

He was also selected by the Battalion leadership to attend an elite sniper/counter sniper training exercise at the Mountain Warfare Center in Vermont. Based on his well established skill set, he was chosen as the NCOIC of the Battalion zeroing and retraining range. He personally coached and trained hundreds of soldiers resulting in qualification of one hundred percent of the Battalion.

In March of 2011, Hamilton was again deployed once to Afghanistan in the Argandab River valley. He was soon elevated to the position of Gunnery Sergeant in charge of the heavy weapons teams and sniper team of the 1st Platoon.

SSG Hamilton led over 100 combat operations as the Platoon Sergeant including two Brigade level Air Assaults and five patrol bases. He also led several highly successful direct action missions against the insurgency, which resulted in over 25 enemy KIA and seven WIA, including a division level High Value Target and several IED makers and emplacers. These operations effectively crippled one of the most prominent and active IED cells operating along the most prevalent highway in Afghanistan, Highway One. Hamilton planned coordinated and conducted the largest joint US and Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) live fire training exercise within the Battalion, incorporating over 30 soldiers from 4/203 Recon Afghan National Army (ANA).

Then came the July day which Hamilton led his platoon in overcoming an overwhelming enemy and earning his Bronze Star with Valor for Heroism. Unfortunately later that year on October 26, Hamilton’s vehicle was struck by an IED causing a severe laceration on his head and face, and an additional traumatic brain injury. He returned to full duty partially recovered, but a few weeks later was struck by another IED blast, this time causing a much more substantial traumatic brain injury, as well as further damage of previous injuries.

SSG Hamilton remains the Gunnery Sergeant for 1st Platoon Mountain Goats Alpha 4-25 FA 3BCT, but is currently attached to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Belvoir, Va., as he receives treatment for his injuries.

"My recovery is going well," Hamilton said. "Things started a little rough, but I am making strides at Fort Belvoir in the Wounded Warrior’s Unit here. When I will leave and return to my unit at Fort Drum is uncertain. Regardless of when I go back, I will be separating from the Army in March of next year. It has been a truly rewarding experience, but it is time to start the next chapter of my life."

That chapter includes spending time with parents James and Glenda Hamilton and wife Janette, who is an accomplished graduate student from Saint Louis, and holds two Bachelor degrees as well as a Master's degrees. She currently conducts veteran's research at Virginia Commonwealth University while studying for her Ph.D., in Psychology.

"I would like to say how much I truly appreciate all my friends and family who have supported me over the years," Hamilton said. "I would especially like to tell my amazing parents James and Glenda Hamilton, and my wife Janette, how appreciated they are for continuously supporting me throughout my military career. I also appreciate Lance and Shelly Hampton, and the whole Hampton family. They truly are some of the most genuine people I have ever met. Lance Hampton has been a friend and role model for almost a decade. My life would be much different without the support I have received from him and his family."

Hamilton's awards include the Bronze Star with Valor for Heroism, the Purple Heart (3rd award), the Army Commendation medal (4th Award), the Army Achievement Medal, Meritorious Unit Citation, the Joint Meritorious Unit Citation, the Army Good Conduct Medal (2nd award), the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghan Campaign Medal with four campaign stars, the Global War on Terror Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon (3rd award), the NATO Medal, the Combat Action Badge, the Air Assault Badge, Expert qualification badges for the M4 Rifle, M9 pistol and Field Artillery, and the Physical Fitness Excellence badge.

Hamilton said he would like to honor and recognize five close friends SSG. Cullers, SGT. Owens, SPC. Roughton, CPL. Cole and SFC. Monti who were all killed in action while serving in Afghanistan.

"These are a few of many 10th Mountain Heroes who paid the ultimate price for freedom," Hamilton said. "My entire career is a drop in the bucket to what these men have done."

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