Lexington firefighter to receive Silver Star for saving lives in Afghanistan war

jwarren@herald-leader.comFebruary 9, 2013 

  • Medal ceremony

    Shannon Ison will receive the Silver Star at 11:30 a.m. Sunday in the Grand Ballroom at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville.

This should be a weekend to remember for Lexington firefighter Shannon Ison.

On Friday, Ison graduated from the Lexington Fire Department's Company Officer Academy, putting him in line for promotion to lieutenant.

On Sunday in Louisville, Ison, 43, will receive the Silver Star Medal, America's third-highest military decoration, for rescuing four wounded soldiers from a burning vehicle under fire in Afghanistan in 2008.

Ison, a captain in the Kentucky National Guard when he isn't working as a firefighter, will be the fifth Kentucky Guard member to receive the Silver Star since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Ison, who grew up in Johnson County, has been a guardsman for about 10 years, about the same amount of time he's been a firefighter. He and his wife, Deborah, have a daughter, Allyson, 14, and a son, Benjamin, 11. The family lives in Midway.

Ison described his combat service with a soldier's typical modesty during an interview Friday.

"I was just trying to help some people out of a bad situation, doing the same thing that I'm sure they would have done for me in the same situation," he said.

But National Guard Col. Mike Ferguson of Versailles, who commanded Ison's unit in Afghanistan in 2008, said members of the outfit knew they probably were headed into trouble at the time. They had been sent into an isolated area, on a principal infiltration route near the Pakistan border, according to Ferguson.

"We knew that if we moved down into that area we would be met with resistance," he said. "We had four or five really distinct moments in Afghanistan, and that definitely was one of them."

Ison was then a 1st lieutenant, leading a platoon of the 206th Engineer Battalion. Members of the outfit were accompanying an infantry unit, helping to clear a roadway of improvised explosive devices, when they were ambushed by about 80 insurgents.

A Humvee struck one of the homemade bombs and exploded into flames with four injured soldiers inside.

Ison leaped from his own vehicle, ran to the burning vehicle and began pulling out the wounded men, ignoring enemy fire that was hitting all around him.

As the shooting continued, a rocket-propelled grenade exploded nearby, further injuring one of the men Ison was trying to help. Ison gave that man first aid, then led members of his platoon in firing on the insurgents.

Ison said most of the attackers were dead when the shooting finally stopped. The four men from the burning Humvee survived.

An Army citation later concluded that "several lives would have been lost" if Ison had not acted.

One irony in the situation: the men Ison rescued received Silver Star Medals a few years ago. Ison's citation somehow got delayed until now.

The Silver Star ranks below only the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross among America's most prestigious military decorations.

Before Ison, four Kentucky National Guard members had won the Silver Star since Sept. 11, 2001: Keary Miller, Leigh Ann Hester, Timothy Nein and Jason Mike. Nein's medal was later upgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross.

About 15,000 Kentucky National Guard members have been deployed since 9-11.

Back when Shannon Ison first went overseas, Ferguson wanted to assign him to intelligence work at battalion headquarters — in other words, a desk job. Ison strenuously objected, saying he wanted to command a platoon.

"Based on the boldness he showed, I said, 'OK, you'll get your platoon,'" Ferguson recalled. "Obviously, he capitalized on the opportunity."

Shannon Ison is scheduled to return to Afghanistan this year for another tour.


Medal ceremony

Shannon Ison will receive the Silver Star at 11:30 a.m. Sunday in the Grand Ballroom at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville.

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255

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