'It Was the Lonliest Moment of My Life'
By Chad Stewart
After an improbable descent into an Afghan valley swarming with rocket-propelled grenades and bullets on May 3, 2005, Army Ranger Chris Choay and his eight-man unit found themselves in an untenable situation.
Entrenched insurgents, hidden behind a stone wall and a beneath a thick canopy of trees, were concealed so well that the Americans could not determine how many enemy fighters they were battling.
Choay and his teammates didn’t have the same luxury of concealment. After a four-hour firefight in which neither side gave any ground, his unit, broken up into Alpha and Bravo teams, was ordered to assault the enemy’s well-hidden position. The Rangers, who had already scrambled down a rocky hillside that provided little cover, then crossed a 130-foot-wide river by advancing across a primitive bridge with bullets zipping by. Somehow, they made it across untouched.
The Americans, now proceeding on ground and taking on intense fire, were getting hit and suffering wounds. About 250 feet from the enemy stronghold, with two of his teammates wounded, Choay decided it was time to end the firefight. He decided to raid the bunker.
He moved forward with two Alpha team paratroopers and took cover behind a small crest in the landscape, 150 feet from the insurgents. Noticing that the experienced, battle-hardened insurgents were completely focused on the Bravo gun team, Choay told them to follow him to the enemy’s unguarded left flank. Navigating through underbrush and intense crossfire from both sides, he crept up on the enemy and found himself 65 feet from the enemy position. Four insurgents—three machine gunners and an RPG operator—hadn’t seen him.
He prepared for the assault. Then he realized he was alone.
Before he cleared his jammed rifle and eliminated four insurgents with four precision shots—and before he charged the enemy’s bunker and silenced six remaining fighters with a grenade—this is how Choay felt when he realized he was standing in broad daylight with no support:
“I told my men to follow me, but it was so loud with all the explosions, shooting, and people yelling that no one heard me. I had no one there with me. They were all still back where I left them. … [That was] the loneliest moment of my life. I was dead center in the middle of the objective, all alone. I was scared, and I was ready to die.”
—Army Sergeant 1st Class Chris Choay, who received a Silver Star for his actions May 3, 2005, is an active-duty soldier who served in Afghanistan in 2014. An in-depth account of his actions is brilliantly captured in Mark Lee Greenblatt’s book, “Valor: Unsung Heroes from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front,” which is available at all major booksellers.
–Chad Stewart is the senior editor of On Patrol.
Stories in this Series
Dec 22, 2014
Finding the Faith and Will to Fight On
While battling insurgents on the streets of Mosul, Iraq, Army Maj. Damon Armeni was severely wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade that nearly killed him. But this isn’t a story about what happened that day; it’s about where he found the strength to recover.
Dec 16, 2014
Constant Challenges Keep Trauma Surgeon Going
Dr. Raymond Fang said he “can’t begin to guess” how many patients he treated directly or whose cases he oversaw. He figures it’s in the thousands—fathers, mothers, sons and daughters who in past conflicts likely never would have survived beyond the battlefield.
Dec 10, 2014
The Little Men of Afghanistan
Afghan children don’t know their country’s history is one long, never-ending tragedy. They don’t know they can only expect to live 45 years, and to live those years in poverty. And no one need tell them they’ll know the sights and sounds of combat before they are teenagers.
Dec 3, 2014
Photos of Smiling Troops are the Story of Roker's USO Tour
Al Roker, the gregarious weatherman-turned-co-anchor of NBC’s “Today” gets hundreds of photo requests from fans standing just beyond the barriers of the show’s outdoor studio in the heart of Manhattan. On a 2014 USO tour, Roker was the one asking for photos.