SecNav to Award Upgraded Valor Medals to Marines, Sailor

Silver Star
Silver Star

Following the conclusion of a department-wide review of valor medals awarded to troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, outgoing Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus will present four Marines and a sailor with higher awards for their service Friday, Marine Corps officials announced Wednesday.

One Marine, Sgt. Michael Mendoza, will receive the Navy Cross, the second-highest award for combat valor in the armed forces.

The other four troops -- Sgt. Nicholas Brandau, Master Sgt. Steven Davis, Lance Cpl. Edward Huth, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Atkinson -- will receive Silver Stars, according to the announcement.

Mendoza, Atkinson and Davis earned their valor awards in Iraq, while Brandau and Huth were honored for actions in Afghanistan.

Mendoza, who previously received the Silver Star for bravery in Anbar province, Iraq, in April 2004 as a member of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, is credited with leading five Marines in a heroic charge across an open field after his vehicle was disabled by a rocket-propelled grenade.

According to his citation, obtained by Military.com, the "vigor" of the assault resulted in the deaths of 10 enemy fighters and forced the retreat of many others. When his commander was wounded, Mendoza took out the assailant and laid down cover fire until an armored vehicle could arrive to evacuate the officer.

According to the Military Times Hall of Valor database, which compiles award citations and valor descriptions for all combat medals, the day was one of historic bravery for many Marines.

"Mendoza's platoon was one of the most-decorated platoons for heroism in a single action in the War on Terrorism. On this date, his Platoon Leader Captain Brent Morel earned the Navy Cross (posthumously) and Team Leader Sergeant Willie Copeland also received the Navy Cross," a description of the events reads. "Michael Mendoza and four of his comrades were awarded Silver Stars for this combat operation. It is a record unmatched by any Marine Corps Company, much less by any platoon, in the Global War on Terrorism."

The other awardees also distinguished themselves.

Atkinson, a Navy corpsman serving with the Marines' 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion in Iraq in April 2003, exposed himself to enemy fire on four different occasions to offer lifesaving care for two wounded Marines, according to his citation. At one point, he dismounted from his vehicle and braved hostile fire to pull his wounded first sergeant from his vehicle and render aid.

Huth, who was recognized for bravery in 2010 while serving as a machine gunner with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, in Afghanistan, continued to lay down suppressive fire on the enemy with his M240B medium machine gun even after receiving a gunshot wound. After being shot in the right arm, he moved the gun to his left arm and kept shooting, according to his citation.

Brandau, who served in Afghanistan with 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, also braved enemy fire, engaging enemy fighters by throwing grenades between bursts of machine-gun fire, and later directed suppressive fire to allow for a fallen Marine to be evacuated.

In Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004, Davis distinguished himself while providing security for armored ambulances evacuating casualties from the heart of the war-torn city, according to his citation. When another Marine was wounded by gunfire, Davis departed the safety of the vehicle and braved "a hail of enemy fire" to reach him. When Davis himself was wounded by gunfire, he used his own body to shield the other wounded Marine.

"It is appropriate that today we recognize these individuals for their outstanding actions in the face of incredible danger," Mabus said in a statement. "It is also appropriate, that by honoring these five men, we honor the rest of you who fought beside them, and those who are still in the fight."

Mabus will present the upgraded awards in a ceremony aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, on Friday.

The higher awards are the result of a review of some 1,100 Silver Stars and Navy Crosses initiated last year by the Pentagon to ensure that no acts of valor from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were minimized or overlooked.

It's likely more award announcements are coming: Mabus revealed in December that he had recommended two troops for upgrades to the Medal of Honor in the course of the review.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@HopeSeck.

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