WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Former United States Military Academy men's water polo player and Army 1st Lieutenant Stephen Tangen was awarded the Silver Star in December by Defense Secretary Robert Gates for valor during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
He was among six Silver Star awardees as 1st Lt. Tangen was joined by Sergeant 1st Class John P. Fleming, Staff Sergeant Brent A. Schneider, Staff Sergeant Daniel J. Hayes, Corporal Joshua Busch and Private First Class Richard T. Bennett. The Bronze Star Medal with Valor was awarded to 1st Lt. Douglas F. Jones.
“It was an incredible honor that the Secretary of Defense would come. It was a little overwhelming,” said Tangen, according to a Department of Defense news account. “Forward Operating Base Joyce gets attacked almost every day, so just the fact that he would come to a remote FOB like this and put his life on the line it doesn’t happen every day.”
During Operation Strong Eagle, Task Force No Slack was tasked with clearing Daridam Village to stop insurgents from massing in the Ghaki Valley of eastern Kunar province.
All recipients of the medals were recognized for their actions during time of heavy direct and indirect fire from the enemy during the operation.
Tangen said he wouldn’t have been able to do what he did without his fellow soldiers from 1st Platoon.
Noted recipients of the honor include Lt. Col. Oliver North, Generals George S. Patton and Douglas MacArthur, as well as Sens. John Kerry and John McCain. More recently, former Arizona Cardinals football player Pat Tillman, who died in friendly fire in Afghanistan, was given the award posthumously.
Heroic actions must be “performed with marked distinction” to earn a Silver Star, an honor bestowed for acts that do not rise to the level deserving of a Medal of Honor or Distinguished Service Cross.
Andrew Tangen was impressed but not surprised by his 24-year-old son’s heroic actions in newspaper accounts regarding the presentation.
"They’re like his family," said Tangen, whose three sons are all Eagle Scouts. His eldest son, Andrew, is a lieutenant in the Navy and also deployed in Afghanistan. “It’s just who they are. They’re doing what needs to be done.”
Tangen suspects his son, who didn’t share details in a call home, was honored for his efforts to save his staff sergeant and close friend during one of the mission’s firefights. Staff Sgt. Eric Shaw of Massachusetts died in Stephen Tangen’s arms as he tried to move him to safety, Tangen wrote to his family.
"He’s a very humble young man," Andrew Tangen said of his son.
Tangen, who is in the 101st Airborne based out of Fort Campbell in Kentucky, arrived in Afghanistan in May for a one-year deployment.
Tangen, who is a 2004 Naperville (Ill.) North High School and 2008 West Point graduate, plans to attend medical school and become a doctor following his service.
Silver Star Citation
First Lieutenant Stephen R. Tangen, United States Army, was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force while serving with the 2d Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM in Afghanistan. First Lieutenant Tangen distinguished himself by valorous actions against armed and heavily fortified enemy during Operation Strong Eagle in June and July 2010.
Action Date: June/July 2010
Rank: First Lieutenant
Battalion: 2d Battalion
Regiment: 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team
Division: 101st Airborne Division