HALL OF HEROES, Pentagon — Brandon Ray Seabolt, 53, said as soon as the team of U.S. and Afghan commandos stepped into the courtyard of a compound that December 17, 2015 night in Helmand, Afghanistan, he knew something was wrong.
There was an open door in front of them. “There’s never an open door” in Afghanistan, he said.
He grabbed the Army Green Beret in front of him, Mike, and pulled him to the side. At that instant, automatic machine gun fire opened up, hitting the line of Afghan and U.S. commandos who had entered the compound behind them.
Seabolt began firing his weapon at the open door, laying down suppressive fire, as Mike began dragging those wounded out of the compound. There were nine hit.
“I just knew we needed to get the wounded guys out so I just told Mike, ‘Hey keep working on those, I’ll keep them pinned down and focused on me.’”
That went on for a long time, Seabolt said. But it wasn’t until the last guy was dragged out and he was alone that he got a little nervous.
“They picked up their fire a good bit and I thought, ‘Well, this could get ugly here.’ But then Mike came back literally a couple minutes later and I heard him engaging again, and so I knew that we would be alright at that point.”
But it was not over yet. The two devised a plan of attack. Seabolt stepped out from cover and sacrificed his own safety to to distract the enemy, as Mike snuck up close enough to the open door to throw a grenade inside.
He and Mike then killed the five enemy fighters who ran out.
That night, two Afghan commandos were killed, and two U.S. Special Forces soldiers, four Afghan commandos, and one Afghan interpreter wounded. Those wounded would survive.
Mike would be awarded the Silver Star for his actions, but until now, little was known about Seabolt’s role.
Seabolt is a civilian contractor with the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). He is a former Green Beret who spent 22 years with the Army.
Last week at a ceremony in the Pentagon, Seabolt was awarded the Medal of Valor — the highest award the Pentagon can give a civilian for bravery.
Only 17 have been awarded the medal, which was created after Sept. 11, 2001, to recognize private citizens who have sacrificed their safety for others.
“Ray, after receiving accurate and sustained and enemy direct fire at close range, engaged, suppressed and eliminated multiple insurgents who were barricaded in a fortified fighting position in order to ensure his own safety and the safety of those on his team,” said Army Lt. Gen. Darsie Rogers, deputy director of DTRA and former commander of Special Operations Command.
“Ray exposed himself from his position of cover to provide effective fire on the insurgent position, as a soldier assaulted the position and hurled two fragmentary grenades. The insurgents continued to fight, but as they exited the building they were met with … well-aimed effective fire by Ray, which resulted in neutralization of five enemy insurgents,” he said.
“For a short period of time, Ray was the sole remaining member of that fighting position, and single-handedly fended off an insurgent onslaught until his fellow soldier returned. Ray’s quick thinking, his determination, and great nerves are why we are so proud of him today.”
As a counter-improvised-explosive device (IED) expert, Seabolt works to keep his former brothers-in-arms safe from IEDs while on missions.
“We’re out with the Special Forces guys every night, and when they go out, we go out with them. Our main job is to advise on counter-IED to try to keep them out of trouble, so we’re out with them all the time,” he said.
The night of the firefight, the team was out on a raid looking for the shadow governor of Helmand.
Seabolt said as a Green Beret he had been in a couple of firefights like that one, but never one where it was down to only two men standing.
“Afterwards I probably had a little bit of the shakes — you know, like ‘Whoa what just happened?’ But during the immediate firefight, it was just focused on what we need to do, communicate it well, with the other Special Forces guy that was in there, and we just did what we needed to do.”
He credits Mike with saving his life: “If he had not come back into the compound, when I was there by myself, I probably wouldn’t be here today,” he said. “So I owe him that, he fought very bravely, you know, came back for me.”
As a civilian, Seabolt has built a reputation among the tight-knit Special Forces community.
“Ray is famous for going out on almost every operation he can in the south. Everybody knows Ray,” said Michael “Tony” Dunne, 45, a fellow former Army Green Beret who was also recently recognized for his courage under fire in a separate incident in Afghanistan.
Seabolt is going back to Afghanistan soon, where he continues to go on missions to save more lives. He knows there is always the chance of another firefight.
“There’s always the possibility. When you’re around a bunch of SF guys, you’re bound to get into trouble, so — ,” he said wryly.
Kristina Wong is Breitbart News’ Pentagon correspondent. Follow her on Twitter at @kristina_wong.