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Home : News : News Features
NEWS | June 28, 2024

Retired NY Army Guardsman Honored for 2004 Iraq Actions

By Eric Durr, New York National Guard

LATHAM, N.Y. - A retired New York Army National Guard Soldier was recognized for his heroic actions 20 years ago in Iraq during a ceremony at the Division of Military and Naval Affairs headquarters June 27.

Master Sgt. Luis Barsallo, who retired in 2021, received the Bronze Star Medal with “V’ device from Maj. Gen. Ray Shields, the adjutant general of New York.

The V device designates the award is for valor. When awarded for heroism in combat, the Bronze Star is the nation’s fourth-highest military decoration for valor.

The award recognizes Barsallo’s actions in April and May 2004 when his unit, the New York Army National Guard’s C Company, 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment, was in Samarra, Iraq, as part of the 1st Infantry Division.

The April action, recorded by the Army as the Battle of Easter Sunday, resulted in the death of Pvt. 1st Class Nathan Brown from South Glens Falls when C Company’s 2nd platoon was ambushed.

Several members of the platoon were severely injured but survived thanks to Barsallo’s actions, Shields said.

“Luis saved lives by staying calm and directing fires on enemy positions,” Shields said. 

He went back to the ambush zone to reposition a five-ton truck so the machine gun could fire on the enemy and evacuation vehicles could get to the wounded Soldiers, Shields added.

“He put himself in immediate and direct harm’s way to save his fellow Soldiers,” Shields said. “Luis was determined that others would not die that night.”

Shields said a Bronze Star for heroism is rare but well-deserved in this case.

Barsallo should have received it earlier, but the New York battalion was attached to an active Army brigade and the original paperwork got lost, said Maj. Katie Schin, executive officer of the New York National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion.

She and some other administrative experts decided to find the documents and resubmit the award. Schin said the most difficult part was finding the officers who would have signed the awards form back in 2004.

“It actually feels great to get this award,” Barsallo said. “Because of the group of people I had in Iraq, it’s because of them that I got this.”

Barsallo said the people he served with in the Active Army and Army Guard helped him become a better leader and bring the eight squad members home.

In 2004, the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment, was deployed to north central Iraq as part of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division. The battalion’s C Company was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, which was responsible for the city of Samarra.

On April 11, 2004, insurgents with IEDs and rocket-propelled grenades ambushed Barsallo’s platoon and killed Brown.

According to Army records, Barsallo quickly deployed his squad to respond to the attack. Barsallo left his covered position to drive a 5-ton truck out of the kill zone and position it to provide suppressive fire on the enemy, allowing the evacuation of six badly injured Soldiers.

Barsallo then led his squad to assault enemy positions until a quick reaction force arrived to take over the fight.

NBC News Anchor Tom Brokaw interviewed some of these Soldiers after they returned from Iraq and featured them in a special report called “Tom Brokaw Reports: To War and Back” in 2005.

According to Army records, the second incident occurred May 29 while Barsallo’s squad was attached to A Company of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, at a blocking position. The squad came under fire from enemy small arms and rocket-propelled grenades.

Exposing himself to enemy fire, Barsallo ran to a machine gun position, took charge of the machine gun crew and directed fire at the enemy, killing two insurgents and forcing the rest to withdraw.

“Barsallo’s strong leadership, unmatched personal courage, and strong situational awareness successfully eliminated the enemy, allowing for the successful completion of the A Co mission,” the citation says.

Barsallo retired from the New York Army National Guard in May 2020 after 29 years of service — eight in the active Army and 21 in the New York Army National Guard.

He works as a health care navigator for the Albany Housing Coalition, which provides housing services to veterans.