A Marine who repeatedly braved enemy fire in eastern Afghanistan attempting to find and save fellow members of his embedded training team will receive the Medal of Honor, Marine Corps Times has confirmed.
Dakota Meyer was contacted by President Obama on Monday, according to sources with knowledge of the award. He will be the first living Marine recipient of the nation’s highest award for valor since now-retired Sgt. Maj. Allan Kellogg received the medal for actions 41 years ago in Vietnam.
Only two living recipients — both soldiers — have received the award for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan: Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta and Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry. Cpl. Jason Dunham is the only Marine to receive the medal for current conflicts, and he received it posthumously after throwing himself on a grenade in Husaybah, Iraq, in 2004 to save the lives of fellow Marines.
It’s unclear when Meyer, a scout sniper, will receive the medal. Officials at the White House and Marine Corps headquarters declined to comment.
The news was first reported Tuesday night on the website of Leatherneck, a publication produced by the Marine Corps Association. Marine Corps Times reported exclusively Nov. 8 that the Corps had nominated Meyer for the award.
Meyer, who left active-duty service in June 2010 as a corporal, will be honored for his actions Sept. 8, 2009. He charged into a kill zone on foot and alone to find three missing Marines and a Navy corpsman, who had been pinned down under intense enemy fire in Ganjgal, a remote village near the Pakistan border in violent Kunar province.
Already wounded by shrapnel, Meyer found them dead and stripped of their gear and weapons, and helped carry them from the kill zone, according to military documents obtained by Marine Corps Times.
Meyer could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday night. In interviews with Marine Corps Times in November, he said he felt “like the furthest thing from a hero” because he did not find his fellow Marines alive.
“Whatever comes out of it, it’s for those guys,” he said at the time. “I feel like I let my guys down because I didn’t bring them home alive.”
The ambush conjures painful memories for many of those involved.
Killed in the battle were Gunnery Sgts. Edwin Johnson, 31, and Aaron Kenefick, 30; 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, 25; and Hospitalman 3rd Class James Layton, 22; and an Afghan interpreter and at least eight Afghan security forces. Army Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook, 41, died Oct. 7, 2009, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington from medical complications related to wounds he sustained in the attack.
The attack occurred during an early morning mission to meet with tribal elders in a village with a known insurgent presence. Thirteen U.S. service members, including Meyer, came under attack by at least 50 well-fortified insurgents armed with machine guns, assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. The Marines were with Embedded Training Team 2-8, out of Okinawa, Japan, while soldiers on the mission came from the 10th Mountain Division, out of Fort Drum, N.Y.
In February 2010, Army officials announced that “negligent” leadership contributed “directly to the loss of life” on the battlefield that day by refusing repeated pleas for artillery support from U.S. forces on the ground and failing to notify higher commands that they had troops in trouble. Three unidentified officers were recommended for letters of reprimand, and Army officials later said they were delivered to two of them.
Two investigations of the incident were conducted, with the first headed by an Army major in the first few days after the ambush. The second, focusing primarily on command post failure, was overseen by Army Col. Richard Hooker and Marine Col. James Werth in November 2009, military officials said.
A full copy report of the investigation obtained by Marine Corps Times includes first-person statements from more than 35 U.S. service members, describing in grisly detail the chaos on the battlefield and in the operations center, based at Forward Operating Base Joyce and overseen by Task Force Chosin, an Army unit comprising soldiers from 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.
Meyer, then 21, went into the kill zone on foot after helicopter pilots called on to respond said they could not help retrieve the four missing service members because the fighting on the ground was too fierce, according to a witness statement he provided the military. He found his buddies in a trench where pilots had spotted them.
“I checked them all for a pulse. There [sic] bodies were already stiff,” Meyer said in a sworn statement he was asked to provide military investigators. “I found SSgt Kenefick facedown in the trench w/ his GPS in his hand. His face appeared as if he were screaming. He had been shot in the head.”
Several other service members involved in the battle already have received valor awards, including the four casualties that Meyer helped recover. The fallen Marines and corpsman were honored with Bronze Stars with “V” device a year after their death for working together after they were pinned down to hold off the enemy, allowing a group of Afghan troops they were training to rejoin a larger group of coalition forces nearby. They fought until the death despite a barrage of fire.
Last month, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus awarded two other ETT 2-8 Marines who survived with the Navy Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor. Capt. Ademola Fabayo, 30, and Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, 34, were honored for acting heroically when “the world became fire,” Mabus said in a ceremony at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, near Quantico, Va.
Fabayo, then a first lieutenant, is credited with braving enemy fire on foot to re-establish contact with the four missing service members, engaging insurgents at close range with his M4 carbine, and carrying Westbrook several hundred yards under fire to safety after the soldier had been shot in the neck and cheek.
Fabayo then drove back into the kill zone with another military adviser, Army Capt. Will Swenson, in an unarmored truck in an attempt to reach the missing four-man team, which had led the element of U.S. service members on foot that day. Fabayo and Swenson were unable to reach them the first time, but evacuated and treated several wounded Afghan forces. Fayabo took the gunner’s position in another vehicle and re-entered the kill zone again to help recover the bodies of the missing team, which at that point had been found by Meyer.
Rodriguez-Chavez was assigned to the unit’s security element with Meyer. After hearing that U.S. forces were pinned down in the front of the element, he drove a Humvee into the kill zone three times to cover the withdrawal of U.S. and Afghan forces, while Meyer manned a machine gun turret on the vehicle. Meyer charged into the kill zone on foot afterward, despite sustaining a shrapnel wound to the arm while in the turret.
Once Meyer found the bodies, he joined Fabayo, Rodriguez-Chavez and Swenson for yet another mounted dash into the kill zone. Rodriguez-Chavez, the driver, positioned the vehicle to shield his fellow service members as they left the gun truck to retrieve the bodies. It was not clear whether Swenson is up for any high-valor award.
The Corps also honored Gunnery Sgt. Chad Miller with the Bronze Star with “V” in a June 29 ceremony at Camp Lejeune, N.C. He is credited with manning an overwatch position for more than six hours, spotting targets for Afghan National Army counterparts and marking targets for aerial fire once helicopter air support arrived.
During the June 10 ceremony honoring Fabayo and Rodriguez-Chavez, Mabus referenced Meyer and Swenson directly, and said the Ganjgal story will be retold for ages at boot camp to new recruits.
“That story doesn’t need any other explanation,” Mabus said. “Whatever words there are, they’re not adequate in adding anything to the actions of that day.”
story by: Dan Lamothe
photos courtesy of: USMC