USS GREEN BAY – The Marine Corps continues to solidify its place in history through exemplary achievement and sacrifice of the country’s bravest men and women. Marines distinguish themselves on a daily basis, however, some standout amongst their peers. Major Matthew H. Peterson, operations officer, Battalion Landing Team 3/5, was recognized for his distinguished achievement by receiving the Bronze Star Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device for his heroic service in Sangin District, Afghanistan, in a formation on the flight deck of the USS Green Bay, March 3. Peterson served as the commander of Company L, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), II Marine Expeditionary Force, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from Nov. 8, 2010, to June 11, 2011. According to the award’s citation, the Bronze Star recognizes Peterson’s meritorious service and “his extraordinary guidance, zealous initiative and total dedication to duty” while “securing the historically violent and enemy controlled urban area of Wishtan” and the surrounding region. Peterson took charge of the unit on Nov. 8, and the following day, his company engaged in a 45- minute firefight with enemy forces. “Every day for the next six weeks there was some kind of contact, be it [improvised explosive device], small arms fire or rockets,” said Peterson. “Several of those days were more than one. That was what it was like when we first got there.”
In order to quell the violence in the region, Peterson instituted numerous forward-thinking initiatives that allowed his Marines to develop a deep rapport with the citizens of the area who were still heavily influenced by a strong enemy presence. The company’s first action focused on extending Marine influence in the southern Sangin region by establishing Combat Outpost 25. Unfortunately, the outpost soon served as the target of an intense enemy attack and during an assault, Peterson calmly coordinated the evacuation of three wounded Marines, an ammunition resupply and the employment of air and artillery assets that drove back the attack. Under Peterson’s leadership, the Marines of Company L spent December and January clearing the violent urban area of Wishtan. His Marines not only eliminated the enemy presence, but created an enduring, secure environment by establishing patrol bases and outposts as well as creating a local census. This allowed the Marines to develop a strong bond of trust and respect with the people of Wishtan which eventually drew reluctant citizens to the side of the Marines. “There’s a guy who ended up working with us that didn’t want to work with us initially,” said Peterson. “As I was leaving, we had tea together and I asked him, ‘What was it that we did that made you want to support us?’ And he said, ‘Just seeing you guys out there. Week after week, month after month.’ The locals had to know that we were willing to share the same risk; that we were willing to do whatever it takes.” Building on the presence of his Marines, Peterson continued to focus on empowering and supporting the local population through security and health initiatives. He made training and mentoring the local Afghan National Security Forces a top priority. The ANSF integrated with Marine patrols and participated in weekly meetings that served as a foundation for the region’s future security. Peterson also organized a health event for the people of Wishtan and the surrounding area, which provided much needed supplies and lessons in basic sanitation, preventative medicine and midwife skills to over 1,000 participants. The combination of all of these actions and initiatives, ranging from combat to civil assistance, made Peterson and his Marine a trusted and lasting presence in the southern Sangin District. The positive effects of his leadership went beyond his company to create a safe environment for future coalition forces. Ultimately though, Peterson praises the efforts and work of his Marines for the company’s success. “I can’t say enough about the Marines and what they did,” said Peterson. “I’ve never questioned the ability of a Marine to fight, but the ability and the judgment that a Marine has to not fight, and understanding why it’s sometimes better not to fight, is where they really turned the corner.” The 15th MEU is deployed as part of the Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group as a U.S. Central Command theater reserve force, providing support for maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. Fifth Fleet area of responsibility.