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6 Bronze Stars: Men cited for bravery under fire in Afghanistan

Jun. 18, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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A corporal who continued to lead Marines in Afghanistan even after losing both legs below the knee was among half a dozen Marines and sailors who recently received the nation’s fourth-highest combat award for valor.

The six awards stem from the service members’ actions in southwest Afghanistan during four incidents between October 2011 and September 2012.

The corporal and a mortar platoon commander received the prestigious award June 11 aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif. First Lt. Stephen Huff and Cpl. Jorge Salazar, both with 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, proved their mettle during a 60-hour firefight on Aug. 10, 2012.

Huff led more than 50 Marines and Afghan troops in an assault on an insurgent stronghold, braving enemy fire throughout the grueling battle, according to a Marine Corps news release. Salazar stepped up to lead Marines after his squad leader was injured and continued to direct their fire even after his legs were severed by an improvised explosive device.

Two other Marines, Gunnery Sgt. Benjamin Stryffeler and Sgt. Trey Cholewa, received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat “V” for bravery during the same incident.

On May 23 aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., two Marines and two sailors received Bronze Stars.

Hospitalman Steven Martin, a corpsman with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, saved the lives of two severely injured Marines on Oct. 15 and Oct. 18, 2011. In both instances, an IED struck a Marine, causing severe injuries and amputation. Despite the dangers from remaining IEDs and disorientation from the blast, Martin rushed to the injured Marine in both cases, directing care to stop the bleeding.

Hospitalman John Crowley, a corpsman with 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, distinguished himself in Afghanistan on June 13, 2012, rushing to the aid of Marines in his squad who were severely injured by an an improvised explosive device. As Crowley was stabilizing a Marine who suffered amputations in the first blast, a second device exploded. Though he suffered fragmentation wounds to the face and a ruptured eardrum, Crowley quickly rushed back to triage the new casualties, helping save the lives of three critically wounded Marines.

Sgt. Arturo Ley, a squad leader with 1/7, came under intense fire during the same deployment Sept. 6. After the squad’s corpsman suffered a gunshot wound, Ley helped drag the wounded sailor to safety, then led his Marines to increase their assault on the enemy firing position. Even after suffering a gunshot wound to the neck, Ley continued to encourage his Marines until the firing was over and the wounded could be extracted, according to his citation.

And 1st Lt. Michael Lashutka, a platoon commander with 1/7, distinguished himself during the same battle Sept. 6. During fighting, Lashutka sustained a severe gunshot wound to the arm but remained calm and continued to coordinate evacuation of seven casualties while directing fire support on five enemy positions. During the 90-minute fight, he guided additional combat forces into the fray and, despite his own wounds, refused to leave the battle until the other casualties were evacuated and the enemy neutralized, according to his citation.

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