'Thunder Run' soldier honored with nation's second-highest award for valor

Abbie Bennett
April 05, 2019 - 2:45 pm
Staff Sgt. Stevon Booker posthumously awarded Distinguished Service Cross

Courtesy of 3rd Infantry Division

Categories: 

Staff Sgt. Stevon A. Booker was a "strong-willed, born leader," his sister said. 

Booker proved that while deployed in Iraq in 2003, when his unit, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, was in Baghdad as part of "Thunder Run," an offensive armored attack on the city. 

Under heavy fire, Booker reacted quickly, communicating with his chain of command and returning fire with his mounted machine gun, all while reassuring his crew that they would make it to their final objective. 

Booker took up a position on top of his tank as enemy fire rained down on him. He never stopped communicating with his platoon, even while destroying an enemy vehicle and single-handedly eliminating 20 enemy fighters. 

Booker stayed exposed atop the tank for nearly five miles, taking heavy enemy small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire before he was fatally wounded. 

Now, 16 years to the day after his last mission, the Apollo, Penn. native has been posthumously honored with the nation's second-highest award for valor bestowed upon American soldiers -- the Distinguished Service Cross. Booker served 15 years in the Army and was a veteran of Desert Storm, in addition to Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

"After so many years, he's still being remembered and he's still being honored," Booker's sister, Kimberly Talley- Armstead told ConnectingVets. "That's such a blessing." 

Booker was initially awarded a Silver Star for his valor, but the award was upgraded and Booker's family received the Distinguished Service Cross on his behalf Thursday at Pittsburgh's Soldier's and Sailor's Memorial Hall and Museum. Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, presented the award to Booker's mother and sister.

"We as a nation, as his brothers and sisters in arms are eternally grateful for his service and his sacrifice," Richardson said at the award ceremony. "Steve led from the front to protect his brothers. Today we remember him and honor his acts of valor with the Distinguished Service Cross. This esteemed award is conferred to those soldiers who, in the face of the enemy, displayed an act of extraordinary heroism that involved risk of life so remarkable that the action set the soldier apart from their comrades.

"Steve was an extraordinary soldier and his heroic actions demonstrate a deep commitment to the nation and sacrifice above self for a higher purpose. Steve set the example for his soldiers both by his leadership and his competence as a tanker. The soldiers of his company looked to him for not only his expertise but also his sage counsel, mentorship and positive motivation. Because he was a warrior. Already a combat veteran. He knew what it took to fight and win against a tough enemy."

Booker's crew even named their tank "Another Episode" because of his Gulf War experience, Richardson said. 

"He protected the entire platoon's flank and his tank crew," Richardson said. "Exposed out of the hatch, he ensured his crew maintained cover from the intensity of the firefight."

Twenty-six soldiers from the Spartan Brigade were awarded Silver Star medals for their actions during the Thunder Runs, but only one soldier earned the Distinguished Service Cross -- Staff Sgt. Stevon Booker.

"Staff Sgt. Booker's heroic actions on April 5, 2003 were monumentally important," Richardson said. "He saved the lives of his tank crew and platoon by preventing dismounted enemy from overtaking their tanks and by restoring maneuver to the entire battalion ... The loss of Steve was difficult for every soldier in the battalion. He was boisterous, outgoing, assertive and animated. He had a tremendous sense of humor. He loved the Army and he embraced the challenge of combat. To his crew, he was their close-knit family. In training, he demanded perfection ... He gave them the greatest advantage on the battlefield he could ... He was fiercely protective of them,  his platoon and battalion. Steve died a hero leading from the front. He laid down his life to protect others and to ensure the success of the mission." 

"It means a lot to me to have someone say that my son is a hero," Booker's mother, Freddie M. Jackson, said at the awards ceremony. "He didn't only die for the Booker family. He died for the world."