8 Marines Earn Valor Awards for Daring Afghanistan Helo Raid with Hours of Close Combat

A Marine Raider being awarded the Silver Star Medal.
A Marine Raider was awarded the Silver Star Medal for heroic actions while deployed to Afghanistan in 2019, at a ceremony aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. July 10, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps/Gunnery Sgt. Lynn Kinney)

A Marine master sergeant blasted his way into a building filled with at least eight Taliban fighters in an attempt to save an Afghan comrade during an hours-long fight in which he braved point-blank gunfire and grenade blasts, earning him the nation's third-highest valor award.

The master sergeant was one of eight Marine Raiders recognized by Marine Forces Special Operations Command for their actions during the April 10, 2019, mission in southern Afghanistan. He received the Silver Star. Three other Raiders -- a major and two staff sergeants -- were awarded Bronze Stars with combat "V" devices for their roles in the raid.

Four more on the team received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Valor. The awards were presented during a ceremony Friday at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina by Maj. Gen. James Glynn, MARSOC's commander.

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The Marines were serving with 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, according to their award citations. Their identities have been protected, given the secretive nature of their missions.

The Raiders' actions "resulted in the complete destruction of a determined enemy, including three high-value enemy commanders," one of the award citations states.

The heliborne raid launched the team into difficult enemy-controlled territory, where they faced "stiff resistance from fortified and barricaded fighters." Over four hours, the Raiders engaged in close combat against more than a dozen Taliban fighters.

The master sergeant, serving as the team chief, led an assault across more than 30 yards of open terrain to attack an enemy bunker. Trading point-blank gunfire, he took out the fighters with hand grenades.

As Afghan partners fighting alongside the Raiders went to clear another structure, the lead soldier was shot, leaving him lying helpless at the entrance.

"Climbing onto the building, [the master sergeant] employed an explosive roof charge, and after it detonated, he jumped onto the terrace where the Afghan soldier lay," his Silver Star citation states. "While completely exposed to 8 barricaded fighters only a few feet away, he heroically pulled the wounded man to cover in a valiant attempt to save his life."

The master sergeant's aggressiveness and indomitable fighting spirit were singularly responsible for the complete destruction of the enemy, including 14 fighters, with only a single friendly casualty, the citation adds.

The major, through "sound tactical judgment and decisiveness under fire," employed air and ground assets to allow the assault force to clear the enemy stronghold, his Bronze Star with "V" citation states. And when the Afghan soldier was wounded, the officer also braved point-blank enemy fire to launch a pair of fragmentation grenades that detonated about five yards from his position.

That "eliminated the threat and enabled his force to regain momentum," the citation states.

One of the staff sergeants on the team, a dog handler, also braved enemy fire when the Afghan soldier was wounded. The partner force began to retreat immediately, but the multipurpose canine handler held his position just a couple yards from the doorway.

He put himself in the line of fire multiple times to engage the enemy, once leaving his covered position and moving feet from one of the fighters to move the wounded Afghan soldier to safety.

He showed initiative, courage under fire, and total dedication to duty, his citation states.

The other staff sergeant took small-arms fire from a bunkered position, where stone and concrete fragmented around him.

"Ignoring his pain, he assaulted across 30 meters of open terrain to [employ] a fragmentation grenade into a firing port of the enemy bunker," his Bronze Star with "V" citation states. "After suppressing the bunker, he received small-arms fire from another building, impacting only inches away."

And when the staff sergeant saw his fellow Raiders and Afghan partners in the line of fire, he headed directly toward the building, suppressing the enemy until another Marine destroyed the threat with a shoulder-fired rocket.

He, too, showed bold action, courage under fire and total dedication to duty, the citation states.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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