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3rd ID soldier gets Bronze Star
0505 Bronze star
Army Chief of Staff George W. Casey Jr. pins a Bronze Star with Valor medal on Sgt. John Z. Snell during an April 27 ceremony at Contingency Operating Site Diamondback, Iraq. - photo by U.S. Army photo
CONTINGENCY OPERATING SITE MAREZ, Iraq — Sgt. John Z. Snell, with 1st Battalion, 64th Armored Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor medal by Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. on April 27 at Contingency Operating Site Diamondback. 3rd ID Commander Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo and Command Sgt. Maj. Jesse Andrews also attended.
Snell was recognized for saving lives under close fire attack.
On Jan. 19, Snell was on a dismounted security patrol in Ashura, Iraq. The Alpha Company commander was nearby in a building talking with the Ashura mayor.
Suddenly, seven insurgents opened fire on the soldiers with AK-47 rifles. Snell had three soldiers with him, as well as the company commander’s personal security detachment, who were left in an exposed fighting position.
“My first thought was to return fire,” he said. “My second conscious decision was the fact those exposed individuals didn’t need to be out there in this fight. We destroyed two insurgents, suppressed their fire and engaged them, so those soldiers could get under cover.
“I was standing in the entrance of the mayor’s house. I returned fire and the humvee crew also returned fire with their crew-served weapons. We checked for casualties, and then pursued the bad guys,” Snell said.
After the remaining insurgents escaped, the unit performed a cordon and search of the city and its 50,000 residents. Although nothing turned up, the team did receive a few confidential tips. According to sources, two of the violent extremists died from their wounds and the others left Ashura to escape the heat from the incident.
“Basically, everyone reacted as they should have. It all worked out for the best for us and for the worst for them. It couldn’t have worked out any better. I’m just thankful I was there, so I could take care of my guys,” Snell said.
The sergeant is on his third deployment, having deployed with the division to Baghdad as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom III and V. The incident was the first time he’s come under fire. However, Snell previously earned a Combat Action Badge.
What made this attack different, he said, was the proximity of the individuals when they began firing at the U.S. soldiers.
“They were not more than 25 meters from us. They came right up to us, pulled their ski masks down and started firing. I didn’t think they could get that close without anything happening. It just shocked me,” he said.
Once the bullets starting flying, it “was definitely all reflex. I was outside, pinned down under fire, and returned fire. Following their initial fire, we destroyed two of them and were able to get our other soldiers back under cover.
“Within the first two to three seconds of the attack, it seemed we were going through the motions, everything was instinctive. Time definitely slowed down for that first two to three seconds,” he said.
According to Snell, it was a “pretty outstanding” honor to be recommended for the award by his company and battalion commanders, but it hadn’t quite hit him yet.  
“I didn’t really realize the importance of this award. My mom and sister are Google champions and they looked it up. They told me it’s not an everyday award. I didn’t realize it until then. I’m pretty proud to be in that company,” the soldier said.
He said his wife is aware of the award, but he doesn’t talk to her about what happened.
Snell has been on several patrols since this incident. “Basically, you’re a little more elevated and you have more situational awareness. You’re not more on edge, but rather more attentive. I’m definitely more aware of my surroundings,” he said.
“Sgt. Snell is a very good NCO who is technically and tactically sound and is very solid, both soldier and personal wise,” said Sgt. Bryant Adams, his platoon sergeant, who is a resident of Portsmouth, Va. “His situational awareness is pretty good. I knew what he was capable of doing.
“He’s very good at situations like that, of doing the right thing upon a split second notice. That’s his forte,” Adams said.
Snell, a resident of Boise, Idaho, attended Borah High School in Idaho. A six-year veteran, he hopes to continue to serve in the military, becoming a drill sergeant once he returns from this deployment.

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