Green Beret awarded Medal of Honor for saving lives in Afghanistan

Green Beret awarded Medal of Honor
Green Beret awarded Medal of Honor 02:39

Last Updated Oct 30, 2019 8:07 PM EDT

Fort Bragg, North Carolina — Master Sergeant Matthew Williams and his team of green berets choppered into a remote Afghan valley in the spring of 2008. Their mission, part of which was recorded, was to capture or kill a senior terrorist leader. But nothing went right. To begin with, it was too rocky to land.

"It was about a 10 foot or so drop, you know, straight down to these giant boulders and rocks everywhere. And that's, you know, how the day started," Williams said.

Then it got much worse. Williams said the entire riverbed started taking fire from the high ground. The enemy was shooting down on them from a village overlooking the valley.

"We didn't really understand the amount of enemy that were actually in the village at that time," Williams said.

The lead element was pinned down and taking casualties. "They definitely, probably would have been killed if nobody was able to get to them."

President Trump presents the Medal of Honor to US Army Master Sergeant Matthew Williams in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., October 30, 2019. Getty

According to the Medal of Honor citation, Williams "braved intense enemy fire to lead a counter-attack across a valley of ice-covered boulders and a fast-moving, ice-cold and waist-deep river."

He helped save the lives of four critically wounded soldiers, although he gives credit to the pilots who flew airstrikes on the village. The medevacs that came in to pick up the wounded also took fire.

Williams was notified he would receive the Medal of Honor more than a year ago, but he said the ceremony would have to wait.

"We had a deployment to Africa and, you know, I really wanted to make sure that I was able to continue serving with the guys," he said.

Now that he's received the medal, the Army is not likely to let him go in harm's way again.

"I'm not okay with it. But if it's ultimately safer for the team I understand that," Williams said.

Which is why for Williams and others who have received the medal, it is as much a burden as an honor.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.