Cut off from their unit, the tiny band of American soldiers was outnumbered and outgunned in the deserts of Niger, fighting to stay alive under a barrage of gunfire from fighters loyal to the Islamic State.
Jogging quickly at a crouch, Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black motioned to the black S.U.V. beside him to keep moving. At the wheel, Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright tried to steer while leaning away from the gunfire. But the militants, wielding assault rifles and wearing dark scarves and balaclavas, kept closing in.
Sergeant Black suddenly went down. With one hand, Sergeant Wright dragged his wounded comrade to the precarious shielding of the S.U.V. and took up a defensive position, his M4 carbine braced on his shoulder.
“Black!” yelled a third American soldier, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, checking for the wounds. Sergeant Black lay on his back, motionless and unresponsive.
Cornered, Sergeant Wright and Sergeant Johnson finally took off, sprinting through the desert under a hail of fire. Sergeant Johnson was hit and went down, still alive.