Troops Wounded in Pensacola Shooting to Be Awarded Heroism Medals, Purple Hearts

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The Purple Heart medal (Photo by Army Sgt. William Frye)
The Purple Heart medal (Photo by Army Sgt. William Frye)

Marines and sailors who put their lives at risk to save their comrades during a December terrorist attack on a Florida military base will receive awards for heroism and those killed or injured in the shooting will also be awarded Purple Hearts, Navy announced Monday.

Ensign Joshua Watson, Naval Aircrewmen (Mechanical) 3rd Class Mohammed Haitham and Cameron S. Walters, who were killed by a Saudi officer who opened fire at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Dec. 6, will posthumously be awarded Purple Heart medals. Eight others injured in the attack will also receive the award, since federal investigators determined the attack was an act of terrorism after the shooter was found to have been inspired by jihadi ideology.

"The awards to be presented include the Purple Heart, Secretary of Defense Medal for Valor, Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom, Navy Distinguished Public Service Award, Navy and Marine Corps Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and Life Saving Award," officials with Naval Education and Training Command said in a release.

The ceremony is set for March 16 at 10 a.m. at Pensacola's National Naval Aviation Museum.

Others who shielded colleagues from the gunfire or who charged into the chaos unarmed to render lifesaving aid to shooting victims will receive heroism awards for their bravery.

The attack has led to a host of new security protocols for international troops training on U.S. military installations.

Twenty-one Saudi troops were kicked out of the U.S. after they were found to have inappropriate materials -- including jihadi or anti-American content -- on their computers. The Navy and Marine Corps have also restricted base access for all foreign troops and their family members. The services have also barred them from carrying or purchasing any personal firearms while assigned to American military installations.

The troops killed or injured in the attack qualify for the Purple Heart because federal investigators determined the shooting to be a terrorist attack. The Saudi officer, who was killed by law enforcement personnel on the scene, was found to have shared jihadi and anti-U.S. military posts on social media ahead of the attack.

The shooter also posted a message stating, "the countdown has begun," after visiting the 9/11 memorial site in New York days before he opened gunfire on a classroom at Pensacola, where he was training.

Related: Pensacola Shooter Visited 9/11 Memorial Before Rampage, US Attorney General Says

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Masel and Staff Sgt. Samuel Mullins ran into the building where the shooting was taking place unarmed. They grabbed a fire extinguisher off the wall and prepared to fight.

Barr said while they didn't confront the shooter, they provided CPR and other live-saving aid to several victims. Masel is a UH-1Y crew chief and Mullins a 36-year-old CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crew chief. Both are instructors with Marine Aviation Training Support Group 23 at Pensacola.

And Navy Airman Ryan Blackwell is credited with jumping on top of another sailor to shield her from gunfire when the shooter opened fire on an office. Blackwell was shot several times, but still helped lead other sailors to safety.

The Purple Heart was also posthumously awarded to Marine Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Sgt. Carson Holmquist, Lance Cpl. Squire Wells and Navy Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Randall Smith in 2016. The five were killed in a 2015 terrorist attack on a military recruiting office and naval Reserve center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

A Marine sergeant who'd been wounded at the recruiting station during that attack also received a Purple Heart.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Read more: Pensacola Heroes: How 2 Marines and an Injured Sailor Saved Lives During Mass Shooting

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