Part of the Soldier's Creed is never to leave behind a fallen comrade. On the night of March 13, 2006, then-Sgt. Wilzcek, Sgt. Row, then-Pfc. Alvarez, then-Pfc. Pushkin, and the rest of their squad risked life and limb to live up to that promise.
Row, the point man, was leading the soldiers through dark, narrow alleys in the city of Ramadi as the squad headed back to base. Suddenly two men darted into a nearby house – and at that hour, Row saw that as a clear sign of imminent danger. He stopped the team, but within seconds the street exploded with an onslaught of machine-gun and small-arms fire, RPG explosions, and hand grenades. The squad dropped to the ground and directed fire at the enemy's position.
Alvarez moved to a covered position to reload his weapon, and he noticed one of his comrades had been hit and was lying in the middle of the firefight. Without hesitation, Alvarez rushed into the kill zone to check the soldier's vital signs – but it was too late. He covered the soldier's body with his own and continued firing on the enemy. When he ran out of ammunition, Alvarez stood up and started dragging the soldier out of the line of fire. Row, who was pinned down nearby, provided cover fire as Alvarez struggled to move the body. When Wilzcek and Pushkin saw Alvarez's difficulties, they ran into the open to help. But as the three moved back toward cover, two RPGs exploded 10 meters away, knocking them down and sending a volley of shrapnel into Alvarez's right knee. The men stood up and continued dragging their comrade to the safety of a nearby courtyard.
After establishing a safe area for the injured, Pushkin and Wilzcek ran back and forth several times from the courtyard into the line of fire to rescue trapped soldiers. Meanwhile, the RPG explosions had also injured Row's elbow with shrapnel. Even so, he continued firing on the enemy position to help the others reach safety. Once everyone was clear, Row, who was alone in the middle of the street, called for help. As Row remembered later, “I was trapped in the street, and [Pushkin and Wilzcek] pulled me out of there.”
The squad was now in the courtyard and medical assistance was being administered – but their work was not done: enemy fire continued to light up the area. When the squad started planning the next phase, Alvarez refused to be moved with the other injured soldiers, staying to help in the fight.
The insurgents, seeing the evacuation in progress, focused their fire on the rescuers. Wilzcek, already on the roof, began firing back. After clearing the rooms below, Pushkin and his team hurried up to the roof to help Wilzcek. Row grabbed a Bunker Defeat Munition – a shoulder-launched explosive for use against fortified positions – but his injured elbow prevented him from using it. He ran up to the roof, handed the weapon to Pushkin, and helped guide Pushkin toward the targets. With Row and Wilzcek providing cover fire, Pushkin took aim and fired – destroying the enemy's position and killing a number of insurgents. With that, the squad was able to leave the area safely.
On Feb. 15, 2007, Wilzcek, Alvarez, and Pushkin were awarded the Silver Star for their bravery and actions; Row was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor.