FORT KNOX, Ky. –
Life flipped upside down for Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Waters on July 30, 2008, when an improvised explosive device caused massive damage to his vehicle in Afghanistan, leaving him and his fellow Soldiers injured and unconscious.
Waters, a native of Indianapolis who now serves as an Army recruiting station commander in Eastpointe, Michigan, was initially awarded a Silver Star Medal for his follow-on actions that day; however, a recent Pentagon review board determined his acts of valor were worthy of the Distinguished Service Cross.
Instead of running for cover after the explosion, then-Spc. Waters ignored his own injuries and engaged the enemy while dragging three injured Soldiers from the vehicle to safety. Under intense enemy fire, Waters provided cover for the rest of his platoon until air support arrived, stabilized the injured Soldiers, and continued to engage the enemy while directing the medical evacuation.
Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, who leads the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, presented the Distinguished Service Cross to Waters June 5 during a ceremony at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan. The award is the second highest military medal a Soldier can receive, just below the Medal of Honor.
“People who don’t understand sacrifice or commitment to service may think Sgt. 1st Class Waters was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I believe he was in the right place at the right time.” Muth said. “His decision to join the Army ensured he was right where he needed to be when he was needed. His skills and training enabled him to maintain his composure and get his fellow Soldiers to safety that day, saving their lives.”
Like many who receive medals for heroic actions, Waters maintains he was just doing his job.
“I was a medic, and I did my job taking care of wounded Soldiers,” he said. “I would not have changed anything. Someone had to be in that seat; if I wasn’t me, I would be putting someone else in harm’s way.”
Saving the lives of fellow Soldiers in Afghanistan was not something Waters ever thought he’d do. Growing up in Indiana with two Air Force veteran parents, Waters hadn’t planned to follow their footsteps into service. He dreamed of attending art school, but he knew to fulfill that dream, he needed financial assistance. He enlisted in the Army Reserve in 2003.
While a Soldier in the Army Reserve, Waters took classes and worked for home construction and rock climbing companies. Eventually, though, he transitioned to active duty and moved to Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
“The Soldiers I met there became my second family,” he said. “I never had to eat a meal alone. It was a tight-knit community of Soldiers and families.”
He and his “family” deployed to Afghanistan, and the 12-man platoon experienced the impact of July 30 together. Waters still keeps in contact with those Soldiers.
“We take care of each other, whether it is a wounded Soldier on the battlefield or someone struggling in garrison, we take care of our own,” he said.
Since that day, Waters has done everything he can to live up to his distinguished award.
“My dad always told me that if you’re going to do something, do it right, and if you tell someone you’re going to do something, do it,” he said. “I told him that I was going to be a good medic, so I did it, and I just applied that to the rest of my life.”
Waters’ career took a turn in 2013 when he transitioned from an Army combat medic to an Army recruiter.
“As a recruiter, I tell worried parents that their child will always have someone to look after them,” he said. “If your child doesn’t show up for work, there will be an entire team of Soldiers sent out to find them, just like you would do if they didn’t show up for dinner. We are a family, and we take care of our own.”
A means for educational funding turned into a career and a sense of fulfillment knowing that each day how he makes a living truly matters.
“The family-like nature of the Army makes it easy to continue serving,” Waters said.
Waters knows no Soldier gets far in their career without a support system, and he credits his parents, sister and wife as integral parts of that system.
"I’m a direct reflection of my mom and dad’s parenting,” he said.
Both of his parents served in the Air Force; his dad was an engineer, and his mom was in the medical field. Waters’ sister currently serves as a military policewoman.
“His Army story is reflected in the lives of the Soldiers he saved that day. It’s reflected in his sister’s decision to serve. It’s reflected in his beautiful family,” Muth said. “His story is his parents’ sacrifice, his guidance counselor’s advice, and his family’s legacy.”