TSgt. Michael Perolio, shown here during one of his deployments, will receive the Silver Star on July 18, 2019, for his actions during an attack in Afghanistan on Jan, 11, 2018. Air Force photo.
TSgt. Michael Perolio and members of his Green Beret team piled into an unarmed ATV to meet with a local, friendly militia on a mission that started out “as normal as it could be in Afghanistan.”
The militia turned on the team, killing its own Afghan leader and injuring two members of the US special-forces group. Perolio called in a series of airstrikes, aided his team, and evacuated them out of the kill zone during the Jan. 11, 2018, mission that lasted less than a half-hour. On July 18, Perolio will receive the Silver Star for his actions that day—actions that the American team’s leader credit with saving his own life.
“In my mind, it’s recognition for pretty incredible efforts in some pretty horrible situations,” said Army Capt. William Clark, the commander of the mission, who was shot twice but still was able to fight off the attack.
Perolio was the combat controller attached to Special Forces Operational Detachment-Alpha 0221 that partnered with the Afghan 8th Special Operations-Kandak Commandos in Nangarhar Province. During the deployment, which began in October 2017, the unit regularly sparred with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s local offshoot known as ISIS-Khorasan while insurgents tried to hold on to a valley near the team’s base.
On Jan. 11, Perolio volunteered to be part of a five-man team to visit the nearby leader of the People’s Uprising Militia, which manned a checkpoint about 4 kilometers away. The militia was friendly to US and Afghan forces, and secured areas that were already cleared of ISIS.
The team—Perolio, Clark, another Green Beret, an Afghan interpreter, and a leader of the militia—piled into an unarmored dune buggy and made the quick drive to the checkpoint.
The meeting was normal as the group tried to build rapport with the militia it depended on to hold territory.
“As soon as Capt. Clark turned the vehicle on and shifted into gear, they opened up on us,” Perolio said. The militia used a squad machine gun—the type Afghan national defense forces use—and peppered the vehicle.
The team spilled out to the right of the vehicle, away from the gun fire. Clark was hit twice, once in the abdomen and once in the leg. The interpreter, who goes by Ali, was hit three times in his leg. The militia leader was shot several times and died almost immediately.
At first, they thought another force had taken a higher position to target the team.
“I thought an ISIS element maneuvered on the checkpoint,” Perolio said. “We didn’t realize it was our militia buddies who had actually turned on us.”
Perolio led the team by setting up security, giving the severely injured Clark his rifle to watch in one direction while the uninjured Green Beret watched their backs. The airman then focused on the radio and described the injuries to a nearby surgical team so they could prepare. Perolio also notified a quick-reaction force and administered medical care to his hurt teammates.
“Faced with intense enemy fire, Sergeant Perolio immediately took charge of the element by rendering aid, arming his wounded comrades, and establishing fields of fire,” the citation states. ”Realizing that the Ground Force Commander was gravely injured and required immediate care, Sergeant Perolio repeatedly exposed himself to the enemy’s kill zone, attempting to identify a route of advantage or cover to maneuver back to friendly lines.”
Their vehicle could still move despite being riddled with bullets. Perolio navigated them out of the kill zone, exposed while standing on the side of it so he could direct the driver along the route.
There, Perolio met with a Green Beret warrant officer who took over as commander. With the quick-reaction force, Perolio coordinated F-16 airstrikes on the militia building that housed the 12 fighters. Five 500-pound bombs—one that burst in midair and four that dropped into the building—killed the militia fighters and destroyed a machine gunner’s position.
“Sergeant Perolio’s quick and fearless actions not only got the element out of an incredibly dire situation and saved all of their lives,” the citation states. “His calm thinking under fire and innate ability to manage a crucial situation allowed two members to receive lifesaving medical care within 15 minutes of injury.”
The injured were immediately flown from the forward base to Bagram Airfield.
Clark said the whole experience was a “bit of a blur,” but he remembered Perolio taking control and leading the team out of the kill zone. After that 10-minute ride to the forward base, Clark said he walked into its surgical center, asked for a chest tube, and woke up four days later at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
Following the attack, intelligence arose indicating the militia wanted retribution for the US forces killing 12 of its members. “Luckily, we had a pretty good Afghan commando force,” Perolio said, and the Afghans and Americans continued to work together each day. US forces remained safe and eventually met with the militia to “be able to come to terms” with what happened and returned to the valley, he said.
Many of the militia members were prior Taliban fighters, Perolio said. They were forced out of their homes when ISIS moved in and joined the militia to oust the insurgents, but retained Taliban views.
Perolio is now an assessment and selection instructor with the 350th Special Warfare Training Squadron at JB San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. After four deployments, he said he was taking this time to rest, be with family, and help train the next generation of combat controllers.
At the training wing, there is a wall with the names and stories of Silver Star, Air Force Cross, and Medal of Honor recipients. Periolio’s name will join the others on the wall when he receives the Silver Star from Air Force Special Operations Command boss Lt. Gen. Brad Webb this week.
“For me, it’s awesome, it’s super humbling to say I’m a part of that now,” Perolio said, adding that there are still “guys out there—combat controllers, Green Berets—who may not get the recognition. It’s not lost on me how special it is.”