Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 373, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, earned awards for combat actions in a ceremony aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., May 3.
The squadron was one of several that came under attack by insurgents in September 2012 aboard Camp Bastion, Afghanistan.
Marines with the support squadron immediately fired upon the attacking insurgents, while setting up a hasty defense. They held the enemy at bay while equipment from the fuel station began burning uncontrollably less than 100 feet from their post.
Three of the awardees, Sgt. Jammie Hawkins, a Memphis, Tenn., native, Cpl. Michael Klapperich, a Fond du Lac, Wis., native, and Lance Cpl. Cody Wallace, a Star, Miss., native, all semitrailer refueling operators with the squadron recounted their tale as though it were only the day before.
“We were just doing our jobs, no one expected to get attacked,” said Hawkins, awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a Combat “V” for his actions during the attack. “At first you’re scared, then training just kicks in and you get a hold of yourself and start [doing what you’re supposed to do]. When a mortar round goes over your head, into a fuel farm, it kind of pumps you up a little.”
At that point the Marines knew that they had to defend more than each other.
“We put ourselves between the insurgents and those aircraft,” said Hawkins. “Without those aircraft and our fueling equipment, Marines on the ground would have suffered immensely. You do what you have to, to keep your fellow Marines and contractors safe.”
Not only did these Marines save millions of dollars worth of equipment, they also greatly reflected their squadron as a whole, explained Lt. Col. Seth Ocloo, commanding officer of MWSS-373.
“We sent a great group of Marines to deploy, of that I have no doubt,” said Ocloo. “They’ve made their squadron proud, and we’re glad no one was hurt.”
These heroic Marines came home to tell their tale to their friends and peers, only to be received in surprise.
“Not a lot of people expect a fuel Marine to get into a fire fight, but we were the only thing between [the enemy] and our aircraft,” said Klapperich. “Those aircraft are someone’s lifeline, without them, Marines would have suffered more than they had to.”
A common feeling all shared about the night was a simple one.
“I was just glad for it all to be over,” said Wallace, awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with a Combat “V”. “Doing what we did was a huge adrenaline rush, but I’m glad to be home.”
These Marines are only a few of the Marines who fought off the insurgents that night in September 2012, saving millions of dollars worth of aircraft, equipment and more importantly – the lives of the coalition forces serving aboard the flight line.