Ask David Shultz, and he will try his best to convince you that everyone else deserves credit for that shiny piece of gold hanging on his uniform. The gold in question is a Star of Military Valour, a bravery decoration so renowned and so rare that no more than nine Canadian soldiers—Shultz included—have ever earned the right to wear it. Created to recognize “distinguished and valiant service in the presence of the enemy,” the Star is second only to the esteemed Victoria Cross, which hasn’t been pinned on anyone since the Second World War. Translation: despite his humility, Warrant Officer Shultz is a bona fide hero.
“It’s an honour to wear it, but I wear it and accept it on behalf of my whole platoon,” says the 40-year-old father of two, who has spent more than half his life in army fatigues. “It was a team effort, and the credit goes to all the troops who were on the ground that day.”
That day—May 6, 2008—began like so many others. Stationed at a forward operating base west of Kandahar, Shultz was in command of a team of troops whose mission was to protect another group of soldiers: the Canadian officers who travel from village to village meeting Afghan elders and assessing local needs (water, schools, protection from the Taliban). Shultz’s men, marching on foot through the volatile district of Pashmul, were heading to their second shura of the morning when the ambush began.
“There was a lot of gunfire right off the bat,” recalls Shultz, a member of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. “Because I know my troops and they know me, guys were already moving into positions where I knew I would need to put them.” His men killed the insurgent who fired the initial shot, but within minutes, Shultz and a handful of others were pinned into a shallow canal, ducking a heavy barrage of AK-47 fire and rocket-propelled grenades.
Eighteen months later, Shultz insists he is only alive—and wearing a Star of Military Valour—because so many others “did their jobs.” The sergeant who fired back, despite being shot himself. The medic—Cpl. Michael Starker—who didn’t survive. The crew of the light armoured vehicle, which raced into that hornet’s nest and left no man behind. Shultz is so determined to downplay his own heroics that he even goes so far as to praise the Edmonton staff at LASIK Eye Surgery. The company corrected his nearsightedness—free of charge—during a “Support Your Troops” campaign before he deployed. “Literally, it was a lifesaver,” he says. “There is no other way to describe it. I was able to see what I had to see, whereas before it was tough with corrective lenses that were muddy and cracked and sandy.”
Thankfully, what Shultz tries so hard not to say is contained, for all to see, in the official citation that accompanied his Star, which he received last month. “Regardless of the risks, Warrant Officer Shultz plunged into intense enemy fire to assess the situation, direct his soldiers and engage the enemy,” it reads. “He repeatedly re-entered the danger zone to extract casualties and execute the patrol’s fighting withdrawal. His leadership and courage inspired his soldiers and prevented further casualties.”
When asked if he risked his own life to carry two of his comrades to safer ground, Shultz replies: “Something like that.”
He is a Canadian soldier, no doubt: humble, loyal and, if at all possible, anonymous. This is a man who knows full well that thousands of others have served in Afghanistan since 2002, and that many of them—at least 27 in 2009—have come home in flag-draped caskets. “Every single day I’m here in Canada I’m grateful, because I know what the boys over there are doing,” he says. “We’ve got a flush toilet, a hot shower and good food. All of our problems are trivial compared to what they are handling.”
After two tours in Kandahar, Shultz is now assigned to the veterans’ care cell at his regiment, where he works with wounded troops—and families of the fallen. “They are the unsung heroes of this mission,” he says. “Without their support and their love, it would be extremely difficult to carry on. The families—particularly mine—that’s who I’d like to thank the most, for sticking with me through the good times and bad.”