United States Army Spc. Daniel Evenson, a lifelong Juneau resident, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor this month for his actions during a firefight with insurgents in Afghanistan this spring.
On April 25, Evenson and several other soldiers were on patrol in the mountains of Afghanistan, with Evenson as part of the vanguard.
But when the squad came under fire from a number of Taliban fighters — Evenson said Friday he does not know how many there were — and several soldiers were hit, Evenson sprang into action, administering first aid to a sergeant who was shot in the chest and a specialist with a shattered leg, while simultaneously providing “suppressing fire.”
“Sgt. (John) Lowry was wounded pretty bad,” Evenson recounted. “We had to get a medevac for him.”
“My lung collapsed, and … Evenson pretty much saved my life,” said Lowry. “He was the first one that ran over to me after I got shot, and we were taking just a ton of enemy fire. … I can’t believe he didn’t get shot.”
Evenson helped patch up Lowry — the exit wound was so large that Evenson put his entire hand inside Lowry’s body while stuffing it with blood clot-inducing combat gauze, Lowry recalled — and move him out of harm’s way. Lowry was brought to a position where Staff Sgt. Adam Davila, who would be awarded the Silver Star for his actions alongside Evenson on Nov. 2 in West Fort Hood, Texas, administered “more advanced first aid,” in Evenson’s words.
Working together with Sgt. Christopher Ernst, who would be awarded the Bronze Star with Valor as well, Evenson then helped move Spc. Conner Daley, who had been shot and had a broken leg, to cover.
“Sgt. Ernst and I had to put a splint on him, and kept the leg straight, and had to prepare to move him to the medevac site,” said Evenson.
Ultimately, both Lowry and Daley survived the encounter and received Army Commendation Medals with Valor for their actions, as well as Purple Hearts for their injuries.
“I almost died,” said Lowry, who is still recuperating and has another surgery coming up. Without Evenson’s assistance, he asserted, he would not be alive today.
Evenson said that the moment of first contact in the firefight “was a pretty crazy situation all on its own.”
“This was my second tour to Afghanistan, and it was the largest firefight I’ve ever heard of in my two years there,” Lowry said.
Evenson added, “It was a pretty long-lasting fight. I don’t really remember the whole stats from it, how long it took or exactly what happened.”
But Evenson does remember just how close a shave it was, he said.
“I feel pretty happy that everyone made it, pretty accomplished,” Evenson said. “If it had gone any differently, it would have gone worse.”
As to what he thinks of being awarded the Bronze Star, the fourth-highest combat decoration in the U.S. military, Evenson was silent for a moment.
“It’s kind of weird,” Evenson said at last. “It’s pretty unbelievable for me, because, like, when I enlisted, I didn’t really think about any of this kind of stuff and never really expected it to happen, so it was kind of like a surprise for me. And just to actually get this thing, the Bronze Star, you know, I feel pretty proud about that.”
Evenson’s father, Delfin Evenson, flew down to Texas to attend the award ceremony.
“They put on a real nice ceremony for them,” said Delfin Evenson, who also met other award recipients involved in the firefight — including Lowry, the seriously wounded soldier to whom Spc. Evenson administered first aid.
Showing off a photo he took of his son’s citation, surrounded Wednesday by Spc. Evenson’s brothers, mother and grandmother, Delfin Evenson glowed with pride.
The citation reads in part, “Specialist Evenson distinguished himself while engaging two enemy fighting positions and simultaneously rendering immediate first aid to a casualty. He continued to suppress the enemy and allowed for other friendly elements to find cover and return fire. Specialist Evenson’s bravery, determination, and exemplary devotion to duty are in keeping with the finest traditions of military heroism, and reflect distinct credit upon himself, Regional Command South, and the United States Army.”
Delfin Evenson said “Daniel really did some heroic things, and we’re all — all of us are so proud of him.”
“He took charge,” Betty Marvin, Delfin Evenson’s mother, put in. “It seems like all the boys that grow up in Alaska, especially in the wilderness — hunting, fishing and all that — I mean, gee, they’re prime material for situations like that. They seem to know exactly what to do.”
Spc. Evenson, at the end of his three-year contract with the Army and having completed his first and only tour in Afghanistan, is receiving his honorable discharge from the Army. His parents, Delfin Evenson and Tina Decker, said he will be home in time for Christmas.
Spc. Evenson said he plans “to come home, get college, get a job, start working on the next big step in my life. I figured, you know, what better way to actually go home and help out there?”
Options Evenson is considering are taking college courses to work on becoming a teacher, or perhaps working for Sealaska Corp. His aunt, Rosita Worl, is vice chairman of Sealaska’s board of directors and president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute. He said he is leaning against becoming an Army reservist or joining the National Guard.
“This is definitely a great career, the military,” Evenson remarked. But, he said, “My term’s up, and my life’s going in a different direction.”