Two Marine Corps noncommissioned officers who died protecting others during a 2015 terrorist shooting rampage in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will receive a medal the service reserves for acts of non-combat heroism.
Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan and Staff Sgt. David Wyatt will be posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal in a May 7 ceremony in Chattanooga, Capt. Andrew Chrestman, a spokesman for Marine Forces Reserve, told Military.com. The news was first reported by local station WRCB. The Marines' medal citations will be made available closer to the award date, officials said.
The Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the service's highest award for non-combat heroism, is reserved for troops whose actions save the lives of others at risk to their own. Previous recipients have included troops who shielded others from live grenades in training, and a sailor who sacrificed his own life to protect a security guard who was under fire. Only about 3,000 of the medals have been awarded.
Sullivan and Wyatt were two of the five troops killed July 16, 2015, when Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez fired on two military installations: first a recruiting center, then a Navy Reserve Center. In the chaos and terror, both Marines relied on split-second judgment and bravery to save lives, according to multiple accounts.
Wyatt, a 37-year-old artilleryman assigned to Mike Battery, 3rd Battalion, 14th Marines, a Chattanooga-based Reserve unit, was at the Navy Reserve center when the shooter used his vehicle to ram through a security gate. He directed his junior Marines to go to a nearby park, round up the children there, and lead them to shelter, according to documents obtained by Marine Corps Times in 2015. Wyatt and three other Marines would be shot in a fenced motor pool area at the back of the complex, shortly before police shot and killed the murderer.
Sullivan, 40, was a two-time Purple Heart recipient and Iraq veteran also assigned to Mike Battery. He was running to save wounded colleagues in the Reserve center motor pool when he was felled by the shooter, according to an account from a fellow Marine, Sgt. Amanda Vincent, published in Masslive.com.
In messages shared with the Sullivan family and later published, Vincent said Sullivan had a chance to jump the fence and run to safety, but opted to stay back and wait until the other Marines had gotten away. He and another Marine had been about to enter the center, but got word that the gunman was coming out and changed course.
"They ran back to the Marines outside and [Sullivan] made sure they all jumped over the fence and got away," Vincent said, according to the report.
This will be the second posthumous honor for Wyatt and Sullivan. In 2016, they and four other service members were honored with the Purple Heart after the FBI determined that Abdulazeez was "inspired by a foreign terror organization," a criterion for non-combat recipients of the award. Also honored were Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist, Lance Cpl. Squire D. "Skip" Wells and Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith, who were all fatally wounded by the shooter; and Sgt. Demonte Cheeley, a recruiter who was wounded in the leg but was able to return to work the same month.
In a statement to WRCB in December 2015, Wyatt's widow, Lorri Wyatt, said she grieved that her husband would not be there to receive his award and urged the government to take action to prevent future domestic terrorist attacks.
"When I heard he was receiving the Purple Heart, I completely crumbled," she wrote. "I am glad he is being given this award, for the bravery that he showed that horrific day. I broke down, knowing he wasn't going to be able to see it, this wasn't going to be presented to David, because he is no longer with us."