On the morning of June 14, 2012, in the extremely kinetic Upper Gereshk Valley of Helmand Province, Afghanistan, a firefight erupted between a Marine Special Operations Team and the enemy. The MSOT, with 1st Marine Special Operation Battalion, had been conducting village stability operations in the area when the enemy opened fire, severely wounding the team leader and another teammate.
The battle raged on for two days before American forces could completely quiet the contested area of enemy gunfire. Throughout the 48-hour engagement, Marines with the team displayed countless acts of valor. Six of those Marines were recognized for their individual actions that day during a ceremony aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., April 9, 2015.
Two additional team members involved in the firefight, Petty Officer 1st Class Jordan Walker and Sgt. Ryan K. Pass, were unable to attend the ceremony, but are scheduled to be awarded later this year. Pass will be awarded the Bronze Star Medal with valor distinguishing device, and Walker will be awarded the Silver Star Medal.
Major Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operation Command, presented the Navy Cross Medal to Gunnery Sgt. Brian C. Jacklin, and the Bronze Star Medal with valor distinguishing devices to Staff Sgt. Christopher W. Buckminster, Sgt. William P. Hall, Sgt. David E. Harris, Staff Sgt. Hafeez B. Hussein, and Gunnery Sgt. William C. Simpson.
“What we’re really picking up on today is the gallantry and valor of these six Marines in combat operations in Afghanistan,” said Osterman. “I think it’s only appropriate to do all these awards together because it was all for the same action. It was all for the same teamwork. That cohesion, that competence, that bravery and professionalism really epitomized what that team concept is all about.”
Each individual played an integral role in not only eliminating the enemy threat, but also in administering life-saving medical care to the casualties or helping evacuate them from the kill zone under heavy enemy fire.
Immediately following the initial volleys of enemy gunfire that wounded the two Marines positioned on the exposed rooftop, Jacklin orchestrated a counterattack and casualty evacuation.
As Buckminster repeatedly exposed himself to the onslaught of enemy fire to verify enemy targets and mark their positions, Jacklin radioed a neighboring supporting unit to coordinate direct, indirect and aviation weapons fires and prepared to lead his team across a field to secure a landing zone for medical evacuation.
“When surrounded on all sides by seven to eight times our numbers, we faced what seemed the inevitability of death as we attempted the day-time (casualty evacuation) of our grievously wounded,” Jacklin said during the ceremony.
Recounting the firefight, Jacklin said he asked his teammates, “Does anybody have a problem with risking it to take these guys out of here? Because if we don’t, they are going to die here.”
His team’s resounding response was, “I’m in. Let’s do it,” Jacklin said.
Pass was the first Marine to reach the casualties, and as Jacklin established communication, Pass scaled a ladder to the rooftop. He provided the Marines with initial casualty care and, with enemy fire encircling his position, began engaging the enemy with M249 Squad Automatic Weapon fire while moving the casualties closer to the ladder.
Buckminster, Hussein and Simpson had made it through the gunfire-saturated open field in time to lower Marines from the roof. They continued to treat the casualties’ wounds until Walker arrived to more thoroughly tend to the Marines’ injuries.
Walker, the team’s special amphibious reconnaissance corpsman, quickly stabilized the wounded, mending their most serious injuries to ensure the Marines would survive transportation to a hospital.
Meanwhile, combatants closed within 100 meters of the Marines’ position. Harris developed and employed a plan for effective air support to destroy enemy targets and clear out the landing zone he had identified for the evacuation site.
Buckminster, Hussein and Pass, led by Simpson, carried the casualties through an open field and relentless enemy fire to the landing zone for evacuation. Upon arriving at the landing zone void of cover and concealment, Walker acted as a human shield, positioning himself between the casualties and the incoming enemy fire, as to personally absorb any accurate fire.
As the helicopters approached to extract the wounded Marines, Hall, who had coordinated an Afghan Local Police element to repel enemy advancement, had repositioned the police around the landing zone to establish an outer security perimeter. Directing the Afghans, Hall diminished the enemy assault, allowing the evacuating aviation assets to land.
The firefight continued into the night, and when a larger special operations unit arrived to relieve the MSOT, both Jacklin and Harris volunteered to stay and assist.
Harris continued to identify and destroy targets as they appeared, as well as coordinate casualty evacuations.
As for Jacklin’s continued participation, his Navy Cross award citation reads: “throughout a raging battle all the next day, he provided vital intelligence, tactical assistance, and deadly accurate personal fires. Throughout 48 hours, he inspired all around him as he led a vicious fight to defeat a determined enemy force.”
Jacklin praised the men who stood in recognition with him and their extraordinary manner of conduct on that day in the valley, explaining it is the proudest moment of his military career to have witnessed their battlefield performances.
“Not a man before you here today skipped a beat in their commitment to seeing their injured brothers home,” Jacklin said at the ceremony. “All or nothing. Death or glory. These men before you charged out into the heaviest barrage of fire I’ve seen in over 10 years of heavy combat to get the job done.”