A company commander involved in last year’s assault on the Taliban stronghold of Marjah has been named the Marine Corps’ next Leftwich Trophy recipient for his courage and outstanding leadership in combat.
Capt. Ryan Sparks of Camp Lejeune, N.C., a prior-enlisted 36-year-old veteran of four combat deployments, led Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, into the largest coalition offensive in the Afghanistan war with what was a clearly defined opening mission.
“There’s 100 bad guys in this objective. We’re the United States Marine Corps. We’re going to go in and get rid of the bad guys,” he said.
Sparks will receive the trophy, named for Lt. Col. William G. Leftwich Jr., on May 5 in Arlington, Va. Leftwich, a recipient of the Navy Cross and Silver Star, was killed in combat during the Vietnam War.
“The greatest thing about it is the fact that the company was recognized,” Sparks said, praising his Marines for making the difficult transition to counterinsurgency after Operation Moshtarak’s initial helicopter-borne assault into the heart of poppy-rich Marjah.
“It was just incredible to watch these 22-year-old men out there dealing with problems that most people can’t fathom while their lives are in danger,” Sparks said.
The coalition of Marines, NATO and Afghan forces had the complex task of holding the city and trying to win over a reluctant population while facing threats from improvised explosives and a persistent enemy presence.
A successful counterinsurgency mission requires Marines to understand the “why” behind rules of engagement and the importance of interacting with locals, Sparks said, using the story of a 60-year-old farmer to put into perspective for his unit what it means to be an Afghan.
“His entire life savings is three cows and a couple fields. If you accidentally kill one of those cows, that is a huge impact on his life,” Sparks said he would tell his Marines. “… It helps them understand exactly what the dynamics are.”
Sparks’ commanding officer, Lt. Col. George S. Benson, said his battalion is proud of Sparks’ ability to balance strength and humility.
“In a business that requires extremes in teamwork and brotherhood, it is always humbling to be singled out,” Benson said. “He was the right choice.”
story by: Andrew Theen
photo courtesy of: Lcpl. James Clark