Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright’s father, Ardie, right, receives a Silver Star medal citation from Maj. Gen. John Deedrick, commanding general of 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne), during an award ceremony in Santa Claus, Ga., Wednesday. U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Steven Lewis
Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Steven Lewis
Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Steven Lewis

Georgia Green Beret posthumously awarded the Silver Star for valor

Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright was killed during a 2017 ambush in Niger

The U.S. military has awarded the Silver Star for valor to a Green Beret from Georgia who was killed along with three other troops during a highly publicized ambush in Niger two years ago.

Presented to the parents of Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright during a moving ceremony in his hometown of Santa Claus, Ga., this week, the award credits Wright with saving the lives of fellow troops while scrambling repeatedly across “open terrain through intense and accurate fire from an overwhelming hostile force to protect and recover two of his fallen comrades.”

Wright was part of a 12-member U.S. Special Operations team accompanying 30 Nigerien troops on a reconnaissance mission in 2017. As they were headed back to their base, they were ambushed by 50 Islamic State-affiliated tribesmen, who were firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Right away, a fellow Green Beret was hit. Despite increasing fire, Wright stopped his vehicle, dismounted and joined another soldier in attempting to give their friend cover and to assess his wounds. Then a second soldier was shot and severely wounded. Wright went to his side and continued to fight until both were shot and killed by small arms fire.

“His courage and dedication to his team were unmatched,” Capt. Rick Dickson, a spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command, said in reading from Wright’s award, according to WTOC-TV’s footage of the ceremony, “engaging a numerically superior hostile force, disrupting the enemy’s freedom of maneuver and eliminating several enemy fighters before succumbing to his wounds.”

More: Georgia Green Beret’s grieving family seeks answers after fatal ambush

Recently, the military posthumously awarded the Bronze Star to two of the other soldiers who were killed in Niger, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, a Green Beret, and Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson. On Friday, the Silver Star will be awarded to Sgt. La David Johnson during a ceremony in Miami.

Maj. Gen. John Deedrick, commanding general of 1st Special Forces Command, called Wright a hero at the ceremony in Georgia on Wednesday.

“All of us who served alongside Dustin will never forget his bravery and never forget his sacrifice,” Deedrick said. “But most importantly, we will never forget the true character of Dustin Wright. He was the epitome of a Green Beret.”

Relatives, friends and fellow troops rose to their feet and gazed at photos of Wright as the Ballad of the Green Berets and the Army Song were played. Moments later, Dustin Wright’s older brother, Will, rose to speak. The deaths of the U.S. troops in Niger, he said, “require a response from us as Americans.”

“The same way Dustin would give you a challenge, through love, I challenge every one of you as Americans, as patriots, to respond,” Will Wright said. “Love your country. Love these men. You may not serve in uniform, but you serve. Find that calling, live with that passion, until the last breath that you have got. And that is how you honor these men.”

The military suffered from widespread problems leading up to ambush in Niger, but “no single failure or deficiency was the sole reason” for the deaths of the U.S. troops, according to a report the Pentagon released last year.

Before American troops set out with the Nigerien troops on their ill-fated mission to capture a militant leader linked to the Islamic State, they did not conduct “pre-mission rehearsals or battle drills” with them. Additionally, commanders did not accurately characterize the mission, and the initial plan was not approved by the proper command level, according to the report, which also highlights a “contradictory and ambiguous” process for tracking military operations.

Dustin Wright’s father, Ardie, has said the troops were not adequately armed or supplied and that senior military leaders should be disciplined. At the award ceremony, he slowly exhaled before thanking the crowd and declaring, “This has been a rough time.”

“He was always fun, always happy — just the guy who lit up the room when he walked through the door,” he said about this son, calling him “my John Wayne.” At the end, continued Ardie Wright, “He gave all he had to try and win the day.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.