On November 3, 2016, Army Green Beret Maj. Andrew Byers was killed by small arms fire on a combat deployment to Kunduz Province, Afghanistan. This Memorial Day, he’ll be honored by Project 33 Memorial Foundation during their annual run to remember.
The organization is based out of Buffalo, New York, and Army Green Beret and Master Sgt. Chris Yaw is proud to sit on its board of directors as vice president.
“The organization was started by a Special Forces teammate of mine, Mike Gomolka and his wife, Samantha,” he explained. “Our mission is to honor fallen Special Operations killed since 9/11. Every year, we select an honoree and contact their families for permission to showcase their story.”
Each year on Memorial Day, the nonprofit organization works in conjunction with the local Buffalo community to organize both in-person and virtual runs across the country to remember a fallen operator. This year’s honoree is Byers, a native to the area and hometown hero to all.
After graduating from the famed military academy in 2008, Byers was assigned to 1st Battalion, 138th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, where he completed a combat rotation to Iraq as a rifle platoon leader during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Once he earned the famed Green Beret, Byers was assigned to 10th Special Forces Group in Carson, Colorado, during the summer of 2014. Four months after arriving, he was the detachment commander and led the team through a deployment to Chad, Africa. Shortly after completing their assignment, he and his team were sent to Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom Sentinel in June of 2016.
Though Yaw never personally knew Byers or served alongside him – he and Gomolka were also deployed to Afghanistan during the same time and heard his final battle over the airwaves.
“We listened in on the radios the night he was killed and the ensuing day while they [the team] were still trying to get evacuated out of there as it was happening. Then their transmissions stopped because all they could focus on was immediate survival,” he remembered. “I’m fortunate enough to still be sitting here, having conversations with people like you, and he’s not. I’ve been in enough of those situations to know that it very easily could have been me.”
The Special Forces team fought fiercely for hours against the enemy. Though Byers would perish from his wounds on the medivac flight out, the impact he had that night was extraordinary. For selflessly running into a kill zone to retrieve a fallen Afghan comrade, for maintaining positive control of a 59-man force during a seemingly hopeless situation and for sacrificing his life by leading from the front in an effort to rescue his men, he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal.
“He was a leader. I know that’s not the most precise way to describe someone but when most of us hear it, we know what it means. Usually, there’s a look in the eye when they say it as well, that it’s almost an unspoken understanding that this was the kind of guy who would hold you to a very high standard but no higher than what he held himself to. And he expected a lot from his men. But he gave a lot to them as well,” Yaw said. “It was known that he always felt very privileged to have been in that position to be able to lead the caliber of men that he did.”
Byer’s father will be present at the Memorial Day run. Yaw shared that he’s been a big part of all the decision making as the event planning has progressed.
“I know he’s very proud to see his son’s name elevated to this level. We’re all really looking forward to making sure Andy gets the recognition he deserves,” he added.
As for one the day means to him and how he’d like to see the Americans respond to it, his response was simple and straightforward.
“Don’t thank me, please. This day isn’t for me or anyone serving,” Yaw implored. “I appreciate what people are trying to do. It’s just that the effort is misplaced. Memorial Day is not for anybody who’s still walking around. It’s for the ones that aren’t here with us anymore. It’s for Andy.”
This year is a big year for Project 33 Memorial Foundation. Not only will they have their 5th annual anniversary in-person run from the beach to the Hamburg Brewery and a host of virtual participants – but both West Point and 10th Special Forces Group in Colorado are joining in on running in honor of Byers. The money raised from the run each year goes towards an organization or cause of the surviving family’s choice, Yaw explained.
Byer’s family requested this year’s fundraising efforts be donated to Folds of Honor, a nonprofit organization that helps provide the families of the fallen and disabled service members educational scholarships.
“I think we have a duty as a country to ensure everyone knows the names of the fallen,” Yaw concluded. “We need to make sure they’re never forgotten. It’s their actions and ultimate sacrifice that allows us to do the things that we do here.”
To register to #RunForAndy and learn more about Project 33 Memorial Foundation, click here.