It's that feeling in the pit of your stomach - when you know something is wrong. For Staff Sgt. Bittinger, that feeling came on April 9, 2004, as his troops approached the small town of Behriz, Iraq. Military intel and a recent attack suggested insurgents were planning actions against U.S. forces in the area. And now Bittinger and his team found themselves in what appeared to be a ghost town: not an Iraqi in sight and no security visible.
Suddenly, the men spotted movement in the palm groves; insurgents unleashed a torrent of RPG and small-arms fire. During the battle, as enemies directed their fire toward specific targets, Bittinger weaved in and out of the line of fire, protecting his comrades by drawing gunfire to his own vehicle. As they fought, Bittinger's gunner took a hit, and fell from his seat. Bittinger quickly removed his flak jacket, used it to pressure the wound, and then jumped behind the gun and kept firing.
In the heat of battle, Bittinger knew that if his men stayed where they were, they'd be sitting ducks for the better-positioned insurgents. He had his driver move their Bradley between the enemy fire and the other soldiers, allowing them to move to a better tactical location. Eventually, Bittinger and his men subdued the enemies as they left the area.
Later that night, 20 to 30 insurgents attacked Coalition forces in the heart of Baqubah. Bittinger rounded up a crew of volunteers and headed out to help. En route, Bittinger's vehicle took out insurgents who were firing RPGs and using small arms. Before arriving at the scene, Bittinger's vehicle was hit by an IED, but they continued forward. Before he reached Baqubah, Bittinger received orders to instead secure a bridge over the Diyala River. So his team took a turn and headed toward the river.
April 9th was a hard and busy day for Bittinger and his soldiers. They killed at least 10 insurgents and wounded several others at Behriz; on their route to Baqubah, they killed five and wounded an additional four. For his bravery, Bittinger received the Silver Star on July 19, 2004.