Perham grad earns Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan
Jeffrey Pulford was just 17 years old when he joined the Army.
A junior at Perham High School, he already knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
He joined the service, he said, because “I remember when the towers were hit, and I’ve always had that feeling of serving and protecting. I like being out in the front. I like being a leader. And I like helping others in a way that not everyone does.”
The “towers,” of course, were the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, which collapsed on September 11, 2001 as a result of the largest terrorist attack to ever hit United States soil. Nearly 3,000 people were killed, and another 9,000 injured.
Pulford was only a child when it happened, but the images he saw on the news never left him.
He knew that he wanted to protect people, and to help them in times like that, times of great tragedy and hardship.
He joined the National Guard as soon as he was legally old enough, and has no regrets. Today, eight years later, he’s a First Lieutenant in the Army, recently returned from his first deployment overseas.
And he’s brought a Bronze Star Medal back with him.
The fourth-highest individual military award, the Bronze Star is given to soldiers for meritorious service.
Pulford earned his while serving as a Platoon Leader and Battle Captain during Operation Enduring Freedom. Stationed in Afghanistan for nine months between November 2012 and this past August, he was directly responsible for 33 men and more than $12 million in equipment.
Some of that equipment was lost to the war, but all of his men came home.
And that’s what he’s most proud of.
“The most important thing to me is that I brought all of my guys home to see their families and their kids again,” he said in an interview on Monday. He’s home on leave until later next week.
Watching his men get off the plane after landing back in the U.S. last month, “was just amazing,” he said. “To see the little kids come up and hug their Dads… I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that feeling. I told myself, ‘This is why I love my job – for moments like this.’”
He was also happy to see his own family, which got together for a special dinner to welcome him back.
“I’ve been very busy for a very long time, so it was really nice to see everyone again,” he said. “It was good to see everyone breathe that huge sigh of relief when they saw me.”
“I’m so happy to have him home,” said his father, Rick Pulford. “Words cannot express. He’s a wonderful young man and he’s done a lot of great things in his life so far.”
As a Platoon Leader in Afghanistan, Pulford said he “did a little bit of everything.”
In his role as an infantryman, his job was, put simply, to protect others. He had regular interaction with the Afghans, and provided security for the Afghan advisors when out on patrol.
“The experience was very good,” he said. “It was very eye-opening to see another culture and to see the world from their eyes…It was very humbling, too. To see how they had nothing. They live off the land. What they plant is what they eat.”
He also inventoried, signed for and maintained equipment worth more than $12 million, which was more than triple the amount of any other Platoon Leader.
After assuming the duties of Battle Captain, Pulford was in charge of not only his Battalion, but also five associated Companies, 11 security teams, and their Afghan National Security Forces.
He coordinated more than 1,500 air support, combat aviation, and intelligence surveillance assets, and was directly involved in more than 10 air assault operations, 86 special operations missions and 32 kinetic strikes against targeted individuals within the Kunar Province.
In doing so, he earned a reputation for “leadership and mastery in mission command,” according to the narrative that accompanied his Bronze Star, as well as “courage and determination.”
“I was very privileged to have that much weight on my shoulders,” he said.
Pulford’s work helped the Battalion move forward in its mission of peace and security in Afghanistan.
But it was far from easy.
Constantly at risk of attack, Pulford’s base, equipment and men were all victims on more than one occasion. He recalled one instance in which the bathroom was blown up, and another time when a truck hit an Improvised Explosive Device. Fortunately, no one was killed.
He also recounted that, during his deployment, “I don’t know how, but we had three guys get shot in the head, and they all walked away,” injured, but alive, thanks to their helmets.
Despite the close calls, Pulford remained steadfast and fearless, due largely to his faith.
“I’m a Christian. I believe in the good Lord almighty,” he said. “If it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go.”
Care packages from home, email messages from friends and family, and a sense of duty also helped him get through the more difficult moments.
Someone recently asked him what kept him going, he said, and his response was, “What got me out of bed every day was knowing that somebody else was relying on me to protect them and keep them alive. It was never a choice. It was never a matter of, ‘Do I need to get out of bed today?’ It was a matter of ‘I need to go do this.’ It was about putting others first.”
He also feels that the work he and the other soldiers are doing in Afghanistan is making a difference, providing jobs for Afghans and offering them some tools to make positive, lasting changes.
So despite the challenges, he can’t wait to go back again.
And he might not have all that long to wait. Currently stationed at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, he thinks he’ll be deployed to Afghanistan again after Christmas.
“I’d go back again next week, if I could,” he said. “I like being in the fight. This is definitely for me. This is what I like to do. I like the fact that I can handle it while others might think, ‘This guy’s crazy!’ It motivates me.”
He joked that he’s so well equipped to handle combat because he grew up the youngest of three siblings – all girls.
“War is hell, but it’s nothing compared to three older sisters,” he said with a laugh.
Pulford plans to stay in the military until retirement, and even after that will keep working somewhere “until the day I die.”