A (Not-So-) Small Act Of Heroism

A few decades ago, when rare acts of senseless violence broke out on our streets, one expected the men in the area to protect any women and children from harm as best they could. Chivalry and social mores required it, and such action did not seem remarkable in the least. Today, when street violence has become so routine, one rarely hears of anyone who puts themselves at risk to protect anyone else, regardless of age and gender. The weapons in use and the regularity of the attacks have eroded that sense of chivalry, it seems.
Perhaps not entirely. In a short article from the New York Times, a 13-year-old boy in Brooklyn may have saved a young girl’s life after she got shot in a crossfire, taking a bullet in the back:

A gunman fired shots in the direction of a group of people sitting in front of a building in Brooklyn early yesterday, hitting a 10-year-old girl, the police said. As the girl’s friend, a 13-year-old boy, tried to shield her from further harm, he was shot in the back, he and his family said. …
In a phone interview from his hospital bed yesterday, Ellis said that as he was getting his hair braided, the gunman fired the first of three shots. “When she got hit the first time, I heard her scream,” he said, referring to Destiny, who was shot in her arms and upper chest, the police said.
As Ellis tried to pull Destiny into the building, he was shot, he said, though he did not realize it until about 15 minutes later, when the wound started to swell.

The hospital says that both kids are in stable condition. I use the term ‘kids’ loosely for Ellis Mercado; many adults would have reacted quite differently to the same circumstances. Let’s pray for full recovery for this remarkable young man and his friend, and hope that the police can round up the cowards who opened fire on them.

The Last Act Of A Hero

Saturday’s Seattle Times profiled the last actions of a Marine Corps sergeant that had already served with distinction, but who wound up giving his life to save his fellow Marines:

Sgt. Rafael Peralta built a reputation as a man who always put his Marines’ interests ahead of his own.
He showed that again, when he made the ultimate sacrifice of his life Tuesday, by shielding his fellow Marines from a grenade blast. …
One of the first Marines to enter the house, Peralta was wounded in the face by rifle fire from a room near the entry door, said Lance Cpl. Adam Morrison, 20, of Tacoma, who was in the house when Peralta was first wounded.
Moments later, an insurgent rolled a fragmentation grenade into the area where a wounded Peralta and the other Marines were seeking cover.
As Morrison and another Marine scrambled to escape the blast, pounding against a locked door, Peralta grabbed the grenade and cradled it into his body, Morrison said. While one Marine was badly wounded by shrapnel from the blast, the Marines said they believe more lives would have been lost if not for Peralta’s selfless act.
“He saved half my fire team,” said Cpl. Brannon Dyer, 27, of Blairsville, Ga.

Sgt. Rafael Peralta — Marine, American, hero. Rest in peace, Rafael, while the rest of us strive to be worthy of your sacrifice.

Front Lines: Afghan Perspective On American Election

I received this e-mail today in response to my earlier post from the Army Captain in Iraq. This reader is an Army officer in Kandahar and offers his perspective on the earlier message and its implications in Afghanistan.
Captain Ed,
Just read your blog post from the Army Captain in Iraq, regarding the
insurgent’s reaction to Kerry’s announcement that he would pull out of Iraq.
I am also an Army Captain, and was recently involved in a similar discussion while visiting with some Afghan military/business leaders near Kandahar. They asked us “who was going to win the American election” and we told them that the latest indicators were favorable to a Bush re-election. Their response was very positive, and they expressed deep concern for their country if Kerry were to win. “The Afghan people are praying every day that George Bush is re-elected”, they said.
There is a real fear that were Kerry to be elected, he would return us (American soldiers) to the United States and leave Afghanistan to the remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaida. Just as my peer in Iraq pointed out – these “Anti-Coalition Militia”, if encouraged by such a development, are quite capable of biding their time and waiting for us to leave.
I too would have choice words for Mr. Kerry. It seems like every time he opens his mouth, aid and comfort to the enemy comes pouring out. The right thing is always hard to do, and there are thousands of soldiers over here doing the right thing every day – even when simple commitment and encouragement is too hard for some who would profess to be our “leaders”.
Thanks for the chance to sound off – but I do need to ask you not to use my name if you post this. You keep up the good work on your end, and we’ll keep it up on ours.

Just to be clear and fair, I don’t think I’ve ever heard John Kerry talk about pulling out of Afghanistan. However, the retreatist/defeatist attitude that he espouses on the stump hardly gives confidence to our troops and allies in Afghanistan that Kerry will remain steadfast through difficulties, should they arise there. In fact, a retreat strategy in Iraq likely will increase the pressure on Western forces in Afghanistan, as the terrorists will know how to push the Americans out of the region and will not hesitate to use a successful strategy anywhere and any time.
If you are currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan and want to share your view of how our missions are doing there, or you have a family member who sends you e-mail which gives a different point of view than what we get from the mainstream media, please e-mail Captain’s Quarters at frontlines*at*captainsquartersblog.com. We need your real name in order to verify input, but unless we’re asked by the sender to use real names, we will not identify American servicepeople.

Front Lines: Kerry’s Withdrawal Date Puts Us At Risk

As part of our new feature (which will use the Heroes category for archiving, CQ received this e-mail yesterday from Bruce, which actually appeared first in our comments section. Bruce received this timely message from his son, an Army Captain in Iraq who is working to train Iraqi security forces so they can stand on their own. Given the recent targeting of enlistment and training facilities by terrorists, Bruce’s son might be sympathetic to Kerry’s insistence on telling the world we’re leaving. Not so (bolded portions are my emphasis):
I also wonder if Senator Kerry realizes that he is partially responsible for the recent upswing in violence. This, by the way, is not speculation… this is straight from one of my interpreter’s mouth.
When Senator Kerry said that, if elected, he would pull us out of here in four years, the insurgent leadership had a rousing round of celebratory automatic weapons fire. The insurgents can easily hang out another four years, taking 10 casualties here, 3 there and they know it. And they know that a massive upswing in violence with resulting casualties will make President Bush look really bad and increase the Senator’s chances of election.
So, Senator Kerry, would you like to explain to me how your announcement was supposed to make my life better? He screwed us and I will never forget that. Should I ever get the chance to be in his presence, I will be more than happy to let him know that. I can think of about 22 guys who will never get the chance and I owe it to them.

Bruce, please pass our thanks along to your son for his service to the US. If you are currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan and want to share your view of how our missions are doing there, or you have a family member who sends you e-mail which gives a different point of view than what we get from the mainstream media, please e-mail Captain’s Quarters at frontlines*at*captainsquartersblog.com. We need your real name in order to verify input, but unless we’re asked we will not identify American servicepeople.
CLARIFICATION: Unless we’re asked by the sender to identify them in the post, we will not do so.

Pvt. Dwayne Turner: “No One’s Going To Die On My Watch”

Reader Peyton Randolph sent me a link to this story. It again demonstrates the courage and excellence of the men and women serving this grateful nation.
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., Feb. 11, 2004 – A 101st Airborne Division soldier who, despite being critically wounded himself, repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to treat wounded comrades in Iraq received the Silver Star here Feb. 5.
Pvt. Dwayne Turner, a combat medic assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, provided life-saving medical care to 16 fellow soldiers April 13 when his unit came under a grenade and small-arms attack 30 miles south of Baghdad.
Turner and two other medics from Company A of that battalion were part of a work detail that came under attack as they unloaded supplies in a makeshift operations center.
“I moved to (my vehicle) just before the first grenade came over the wall,” Turner said. “The blast threw me even further into the vehicle, and I took on some shrapnel.”
Ignoring his own injuries, Turner ran to the front of his vehicle and saw a soldier with eye injuries.
“I checked him out, and tried to get him into a building,” Turner said. The other two medics established a triage system under the cover of a building while Turner ran back outside to bring more soldiers into the makeshift clinic.
“I just started assessing the situation, seeing who was hurt, giving them first aid and pulling them into safety,” he said, downplaying his actions on that day.
Turner, his legs wounded by shrapnel in the initial attack, was shot at least twice while giving first aid to the soldiers.
“I didn’t realize I was shot,” he said. “A couple of times, I heard bullets going by, but I thought they were just kicking up rocks on me.”
At one point during the attack, one of Turner’s fellow medics told him he was bleeding. “Someone told me, ‘Doc Turner, Doc Turner, you’re bleeding.'” he said. “I looked down at my leg and saw I was bleeding, and kind of said, ‘Oh hell, if I’m not dead yet, I guess I’m not dying.'”
“I don’t think he realized how much blood he lost,” said Sgt. Neil Mulvaney, from the same unit as Turner.
“After I got the first patient inside the building, I sort of slumped down in the corner,” Turner said. “I didn’t think there was any way we were going to get out of there, and it would have been really easy to just stay in that corner.
“Then I heard (the wounded) calling for medics,” he continued, “and I realized I could let them continue to get hurt — and possibly die — and not come home to their families, or I could do something about it.”
Turner chose to do something about it. He continued to give first aid and to bring soldiers in from the barrage of gunfire outside the compound until he finally collapsed against a wall from loss of blood. A bullet had broken his right arm. He had been shot in the left leg. Shrapnel had torn into both of his legs.
The Silver Star is awarded for gallantry in combat, but Turner does not see himself as a hero.
“Nobody gets left behind,” he said emphatically. “We were the medical personnel on hand. You’re not relieved from your duty until someone comes. No one else was going to get the job done, so we did.”
Although Turner downplays his heroism, the Army believes that at least two of the 16 soldiers he treated would have died had he not been there.
“He risked his life for 16 other men without noticing his own injuries – that’s heroism in my book,” Mulvaney said.
“I was just doing my job,” Turner insisted. “As far as the values of the Army, it’s not to ‘earn’ a Silver Star; it’s to uphold what you signed on for. Other people may see me as a hero; I see myself as doing my job. No one is going to die on my watch.” Turner’s Silver Star is the highest award given to any 101st soldier during Operation Iraqi Freedom thus far. He received the Purple Heart in July.
Thank you, Private Turner.

Captain Brian R. Chontosh, USMC, Navy Cross

Reader Peyton Randolph forwards me the story of Marine Captain Brian R. Chontosh, who was awarded the Navy Cross last week at Camp Pendleton. Blackfive originally noted the story.
Marine Capt. Brian R. Chontosh received the Navy Cross Medal from the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, Gen. Michael W. Hagee, during an awards ceremony Thursday at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Training Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif.
Three other Marines received medals for valor at the same ceremony.
Chontosh, 29, from Rochester, N.Y. , received the naval service’s second highest award for extraordinary heroism while serving as Combined Anti-Armor Platoon Commander, Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom March 25, 2003. The Medal of Honor is the highest military award.
While leading his platoon north on Highway 1 toward Ad Diwaniyah, Chontosh’s platoon moved into a coordinated ambush of mortars, rocket propelled grenades and automatic weapons fire. With coalitions tanks blocking the road ahead, he realized his platoon was caught in a kill zone.
He had his driver move the vehicle through a breach along his flank, where he was immediately taken under fire from an entrenched machine gun. Without hesitation, Chontosh ordered the driver to advanced directly at the enemy position enabling his .50 caliber machine gunner to silence the enemy.
He then directed his driver into the enemy trench, where he exited his vehicle and began to clear the trench with an M16A2 service rifle and 9 millimeter pistol. His ammunition depleted, Chontosh, with complete disregard for his safety, twice picked up discarded enemy rifles and continued his ferocious attack.
When a Marine following him found an enemy rocket propelled grenade launcher, Chontosh used it to destroy yet another group of enemy soldiers.
When his audacious attack ended, he had cleared over 200 meters of the enemy trench, killing more than 20 enemy soldiers and wounding several others.
“They are the reflection of the Marine Corps type who’s service to the Marine Corps and country is held above their own safety and lives,” said Gen. Hagee, commenting on the four Marines who received medals during the ceremony. “I’m proud to be here awarding the second highest and third highest awards for bravery to these great Marines.”
“These four Marines are a reflection of every Marine and sailor in this great battalion,” said Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. John L. Estrada.
“I was just doing my job, I did the same thing every other Marine would have done, it was just a passion and love for my Marines, the experience put a lot into perspective,” said Chontosh.

Recognizing Heroism In Battle: A Continuing Series

As I posted earlier with Captain Roger Crossland’s excellent essay on the nature of heroism, we make a severe mistake when we only honor victimization in the war on terror. One particular criticism that can be made of the current administration is the lack of communication regarding the heroic efforts of our men and women under combat conditions, not through their death or wounding but through their extraordinary actions under fire to win the war — which should be the point of their being under fire in the first place.
Today I received an e-mail from Peyton Randolph, a regular reader and an officer in the inactive Reserve who currently works with the Army as a contractor, stateside. Peyton sent me an e-mail that the Army released earlier which demonstrates the quick action and bravery that American armed forces demonstrate under fire. Perhaps by reading about their courage, we can brace ourselves as well for the effort needed to win the war against Islamofascist terror. I am starting a new category, Heroes, on Captain’s Quarters for stories such as these.

…I met yesterday outside Najaf with a 1LT from the Iron Dukes of 2-37 Armor who as tank company XO was leading a convoy of two platoons of tanks on HETs [heavy equipment transporters – Ed] from Al Kut in the east to Najaf in the west, a distance of about 175KM. As they passed through the town of Diwaniyah, they were ambushed by a group of insurgents–undoubtedly former regime soldiers with some military training–with RPGs, heavy machine guns, and AK-47s. The Task Force Scouts had passed through only 30 minutes earlier without contact, so this was a well planned ambush of probably 50 or so organized in two and three man teams.
The convoy suffered three soldiers KIA in the initial moments of the ambush–one Iron Duke, one 2ACR cavalry trooper, and one transportation officer. The convoy immediately returned fire. They had several HUMMWVs in escort, and the tanks on the back of the HETs were manned with loaders and TCs on crew served weapons. Within minutes of the ambush, one of the HETs was disabled, and the Lieutenant realized he would have to stand and fight to ensure he had everyone. The Iron Dukes “broke chains” as they described it, by essentially driving off the back of the HETs under fire to engage the enemy. In the course of the next hour, they fought their way out of Diwaniyah employing every weapon available to them including main gun. They got everyone and everything out with the exception of one HET. Enemy BDA was 30 killed and an unknown number wounded.
A day after this fight, I received an email from CPT Thomas Moore, of the 1175th Transportation, who was the convoy commander. He wrote: “were it not for the courage and actions under fire of the 2ACR and 2-37 soldiers that day, he is certain all his men would have been killed.” He asked me if he and his soldiers engaged in that fight with us could wear the 1AD combat patch. I told him I’d be honored.
There are many such stories of courage under fire and just as many stories of incredible compassion to the innocent…
Continuing mission, sir.
V/R Marty

To recap: an American convoy was ambushed by well-trained Saddam remnants near Diwaniyah while transporting tanks and weaponry through the area. While being ambushed, the unit managed to unload the tanks from the transports under fire and not only return fire, but essentially wipe out their ambushers, at a loss ratio to the remnants of 10-1, almost unbelievable for an ambush action. By standing and slugging it out, the unit not only survived but delivered a terrible defeat to the enemy.
As the author of this e-mail notes, this is one aspect of what we do in Iraq to win the war. For another strategy involving the military, see this post, and for a longer and more detailed view from a contractor (a friend of mine), see this post.
Addendum: Peyton disagrees with me about the “repositioning” of Marines around Fallujah and expects a sudden change to occur soon:

The Marines haven’t gone anywhere – they’ve pulled back and redeployed from a few secured areas, replaced by the “Falujah Security Brigade.” Given the American and international press’ inclination to report bad news, the Marines have just let them call it as they see it. I see it as the greatest deception plan ever. No disinformation necessary, just let the press spin things as they will. I expect the Marines to open a huge can of whoop-ass on the whole northern part of the city, and it could happen at any time. Night time is most likely, in my opinion. Place your bets and whack the refresh button on Fox News.

I hope you’re right, Peyton — I’d be glad to buy Mitch Berg a beer if so.