A Navy hospital corpsman serving with the Marines' elite special operations command will be recognized this week for heroism shown when he braved enemy fire to rush to the side of wounded troops in Afghanistan's Herat province in 2014 when they were attacked by a rogue Afghan commando.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Alejandro Salabarria, 28, will receive the Silver Star, the military's third-highest combat honor, at a ceremony Friday at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Salabarria, a member of 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, earned the award Sept. 15, 2014, while deployed to Afghanistan as a team medic with Marine Special Operations Team 8214. The Marine Corps would formally pull out of the country the following month.
The team had been gathered at a helicopter landing zone with a group of Italian special forces troops and Afghan special operations commandos, who received training from the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, or MARSOC, Raiders and conducted missions alongside them.
Suddenly, according to Salabarria's medal citation, one of the commandos turned his weapons on the American, Afghan and Italian forces, firing on them with his M4 assault rifle and M203 grenade launcher. Known as insider attacks or green-on-blue attacks, such assaults have been responsible for dozens of U.S. and coalition deaths. In 2014, an Army two-star general, Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, was killed in one such attack.
In an instant, the troops' planned helicopter assault mission was thrown into chaos. Multiple MARSOC troops and Afghan personnel were wounded in the first seconds of the attack, according to Salabarria's citation. But the corpsman didn't hesitate. He charged into the kill zone, firing on the rogue commando with his own M4 rifle as he maneuvered to the side of a wounded fellow medic.
Placing his body as a shield between the commando and the wounded medic, Salabarria continued to fight him off, ultimately killing the rogue soldier with his M4. Then, after making sure the area was secure, he treated two other wounded team members and coordinated their evacuation via helicopter, according to his citation.
Although none of the wounded are named in the citation, one Marine raider was killed in the green-on-blue attack. Sgt. Charles Strong, 28, a critical skills operator with 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, would succumb to his wounds, becoming one of the last Marines to die in Afghanistan.
Salabarria, a Miami native, will be the 25th member of MARSOC to receive the prestigious Silver Star since the command was formed 10 years ago.
Prior to serving in MARSOC, Salabarria had completed the Army Basic Airborne School and served as a senior line corpsman for a scout sniper platoon attached to 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines out of Camp Lejeune.