Camp Pendleton, California -- Heroism; bravery; valor: these are qualities which are defined and made familiar to Marines and sailors alike upon entering the service. They are further illustrated in the numerous chronicles of battles past, and the heroes of those battles. The service members who embodied, and truly exemplified those noble qualities in the direst of circumstances – their stories have been immortalized in the citations of their medals earned, and made famous by service members who stand in admiration.
The Navy Cross serves as a testament to its recipient's extraordinary heroism and valor displayed in combat. It is the second highest award a Marine or Sailor can receive, recognizing gallantry in combat, only to be surpassed by the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Less than six-thousand five-hundred service members aiding U.S. naval services have come to earn the Navy Cross in its 95-year existence. The individuals belonging to that small circle of recipients had braved gun fire, mine fields, overwhelming enemy advances – really, any number of situations presented in combat resulting in a bleak chance of survival – and performed unimaginable, heroic feats, almost always with a complete disregard for self-preservation.
Chief Petty Officer Justin A. Wilson, native to Beloit, Kansas, joined that small circle Nov. 25, 2014, receiving the Navy Cross aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton for the heroic actions he displayed while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, Sept. 28, 2011.
On that day, Wilson, a Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsman with 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command (MARSOC), was on a patrol with Marine Special Operations Team (MSOT) 8113. Wilson voluntarily set out with Staff Sgt. Nicholas Sprovtsoff, the MSOT's explosive ordinance disposal technician, and Staff Sgt. Christopher Diaz, a Military Working-dog handler attached to MSOT 8113, to clear an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) near an Afghan Local Police checkpoint in Helmand province.
Upon approaching the IED for disposal, a sizable explosive detonated.
Wilson's award citation described what happened next, and reads, "despite being disoriented by the dust and overpressure from the blast, and knowing the enemy's tactic of emplacing multiple IEDs in proximity, Petty Officer Wilson immediately left the safety of his position and searched the checkpoint until he located the severely wounded EOD Tech."
Upon locating Sprovtsoff, two additional team members ran through the likely bomb ridden area to assist in rendering aid, and removing the EOD Tech from the kill zone.
During the attempt to move Sprovtsoff to safety, Wilson's anticipation of multiple emplaced IEDs was realized and the second explosive detonated.
"I knew what lay ahead. I think they [Diaz and Sprovtsoff] knew what lay ahead and I think everybody knew what was going to happen that day," Wilson said to the audience, after receiving the award. The second blast severely wounded Wilson and mortally wounded his teammate. Wilson, even after sustaining serious injuries, paid no mind to his own welfare, and proceeded to move his teammate to safety, where he coursed through life saving procedures until the Marine succumbed to his wounds.
Still not certain of the condition of the other two team members, or if any other IEDs remained, he immediately returned to the checkpoint in search of his fellow teammates.
"This is a man who literally ran through multiple IEDs with complete disregard for his own safety, he didn't hesitate for one second to run to the sound of the guns," said Maj. Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, commander of MARSOC.
When Wilson reached his fallen comrades, he soon realized there was nothing more he could do to save the lives of his teammates, and only then did he allow for the treatment of his own wounds.
Two of the Marines who died that 28th day of Sept., 2011, Diaz and Sprovtsoff, felled by the explosions of this same IED incident, posthumously received Bronze Star Medals with combat distinguishing devices, received by their families in the same ceremony. Both Diaz and Sprovtsoff received the awards in recognition of their willing and courageous advancement into danger.
"[Hero] is a word we tend to use pretty frequently these days, or we have for the last 10 years. There have been a lot of folks who have done heroic things," he said. "But I think as you listen to the citations today, these are genuine and true heroes," concluded Osterman.
Wilson is the first sailor assigned to MARSOC to be awarded the Navy Cross, joining his Marine brothers as the seventh service member within MARSOC to receive the medal.