MCLEAN, Va., July 24, 2013 - Two fallen Navy petty officers became the 18th and 19th recipients of the National Intelligence Medal for Valor in a July 22 ceremony at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence here.
Calling Day and Strange "two young heroes who gave the last full measure of devotion to their country," Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper presented the medals in front of a standing-room-only gathering of families, friends and shipmates.
Day, a few days shy of his 29th birthday when he died, was a tactical communicator, and Strange, 25, was an information operations operator. Both were assigned within Naval special operations when they responded Aug. 6, 2011, to enemy forces escaping from a nearby raid in an enemy-contested valley of eastern Afghanistan, the award citations read.
Knowing the valley served as an enemy safe haven with no sustained coalition force presence, and knowing that their mission was to interdict and ambush an armed enemy force, Day and Strange volunteered to pursue an enemy known to have attacked and killed coalition forces with plans for future attacks, the citations said.
Both "selflessly chose to interdict the fleeing enemy when [they] boarded the helicopter with [their] teammates," the citations said, but the aggressive mission ended tragically when their helicopter was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade, causing it to crash and killing all on board.
Twenty-eight other Americans, eight Afghans and a military working dog were en route to assist an Army Ranger unit engaged in a firefight with Taliban forces west of the Afghan capital of Kabul, Clapper added.
"For each of them, the courageous choice to ride to the sound of gunfire was one they'd made many times before," he told the audience.
The accident was the largest single loss of American life during the Afghanistan campaign and the greatest single loss of life ever suffered by the U.S. Special Operations community, Clapper said.
The U.S. intelligence community looks up to Day and Strange for their heroism and for "setting the example for our entire community," Clapper said. "They served at an amazing nexus of the Navy, special operations and the intelligence community."
Serving with the Navy SEALS, he added, Day and Strange were unique, elite and truly remarkable young men.
"We continue to look to them as selfless examples of service to this great nation," Clapper said. "They were the best of us."
Both men are now part of the history of this country, he said, calling them "a legacy of sacrifice toward something larger than just oneself."
Sam Day and Karolyn Kimball Day of Salt Lake City received the medal for valor for their son.
"He was just amazing," Elizabeth Kimball Day said of her son, adding that he was only 6 years old when he declared he wanted to join the Navy, and did so when he was 19.
"He was always the funny one" she said. "He always got up with a smile, and went to bed with a smile. He always took the underdog under his wing."
"[The National Intelligence Medal for Valor] is a great honor, and it shows how much Michael was appreciated," said Elizabeth Strange of Philadelphia, who accepted the medal on his behalf.
Michael Strange also joined the Navy at a young age, his mother said, adding that she and Michael's father had to sign papers when he was 17 to allow him to go into the Navy when he graduated from high school at age 18.
"It was a decision he made, and he was really determined," she added.
Strange's family didn't believe he wanted to join the military at first. His mother said he wasn't one to arrive at school on time, but he scored very high on tests and was excited when the Navy told him about the jobs he could perform.
"He meshed well with the Navy, [and] I couldn't believe it," his mother said. "He excelled at it."Biographies:
James R. Clapper
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