Sgt. Benny Alicea was awarded the Silver Star for his action during Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah.
Injured by the flying fragments of an enemy grenade, a Soldier collected himself and noticed his buddies were down. He rushed to protect them, firing round after round at his attackers as bullets punced into the walls around him. If he and his friends were to live, there was nothing he could do but continue to fight alone and wait for reinforcements.
This was the situation Sgt. Benny Alicea, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry, 1st Cavalry Division ‘ then Spc. Alicea ‘ faced during a battle in Fallujah in November 2004. Alicea’s actions that day earned him the Silver Star, just one of the many awards he earned during his year in Iraq. He also received two Purple Hearts and two Army Commendation Medals ‘ one with a V device for valor in another battle.
Members of A Company, were in Fallujah to take part in Operation Phantom Fury, which aimed to bring the rogue city under coalition control. As the sun rose over Fallujah, insurgents operating from a complex of houses fired on the company’s 1st platoon. The platoon returned fire from their Bradley Fighting Vehicles and began clearing the complex to secure the area.
The company detained 20 suspected insurgents and also found a cache of weapons and ammunition. As the Soldiers dealt with the detainees, another group of insurgents attacked the troops from a nearby house. Alicea’s squad got the order to eliminate the new threat.
While clearing a house, the platoon cleared and empty room and moved toward a closed door with apprehension. ‘The door was not even fully open when a hailstorm of bullets started coming out,’ Alicea said. ‘It was chaotic, and I felt the rounds passing by me. We didn’t realize how many people were in there until they started shooting and we heard their voices.’
The squad found itself battling 15 insurgents. Bullets and debris flew everywhere as both sides suffered casualties. Fragments from two enemy grenades caught Alicea in the hip and buttocks. As the squad backed out of the house, Alicea laid down suppressive fire before falling to the ground in pain. Three of his comrades were also injured, and Alicea positioned himself to protect them. ‘I just loaded my weapon and kept on firing as I was staying around my brothers to protect them,’ said Alicea. ‘At this point, in my mind I felt like I was going to die.’
Alicea was running out of ammunition when a Bradley came to rescue him and the other wounded Soldiers.
With the skirmish over, Alicea helped load the wounded into vehicles, ignoring his own pain. The three Soldiers Alicea protected all suffered severe wounds. One of those Soldiers, Spc. Jose Velez, didn’t survive.
Despite his heroism, Alicea remains humble about his actions. According to his friends and fellow Soldiers, that attitude describes the type of person he is.
While he is proud of what he did to earn the Silver Star, the award also brought back the harsh memories of a fallen friend. ‘It is an honor to get it, but the award also reminds me of Velez a lot,’ he said, his eyes welling up with tears.
Now in Kuwait, the first stop on his way home, Alicea prepares for his return to Fort Hood, Texas. He looks forward to spending time with his wife, organizing his life and thinking about the future. ‘I appreciate life a lot more,’ he said. ‘Some people don’t take life seriously until they see someone close to them being picked up off the ground.’