Lance Cpl. Brady Gustafson, a machine gunner with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, is honored in March 2009 during his Navy Cross ceremony at Twentynine Palms, Calif. (Pfc. Michael T. Gams / Marine Corps)
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A Marine who braved a hail of enemy fire during a ferocious 2008 engagement in Afghanistan in which he lost part of his right leg deserves consideration for the Medal of Honor, said his former battalion commander.
Cpl. Brady Gustafson, now 26, received the Navy Cross for his actions July 21, 2008, in a firefight in Shewan, a Taliban-held village in Farah province. Then a lance corporal, he sustained a devastating injury to his leg while in the gun turret of a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in an ambush.
The attack was vicious from the start: In addition to Gustafson’s injuries, the driver of his vehicle was knocked unconscious by the blast. A Humvee behind them also took fire and eventually burst into flames. Gustafson stayed in the turret, however, unloading hundreds of rounds on the enemy as a Navy corpsman inside the vehicle fastened a tourniquet on Gustafson’s bloody leg.
Col. Richard Hall, who led Gustafson’s battalion at the time, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, out of Twentynine Palms, Calif., told Marine Corps Times on Oct. 25 that he regrets not putting Gustafson up for the Medal of Honor, the nation’s top award for valor. Gustafson was initially recommended for the Silver Star, Hall said, and ultimately received the Navy Cross on March 27, 2009. It is second only to the Medal of Honor. That same year, Time Magazine included Gustafson in its annual “Time 100” issue as one of the people “who most affect our world.”
Hall, now the commander of 4th Marine Regiment in Okinawa, Japan, said when he looks back on 2/7’s deployment in 2008, he believes he undervalued the valor of several of his Marines, especially Gustafson.
“When you consider that his leg is taken off, his driver is unconscious and he’s shouting to his driver to get him out of the kill zone. Meanwhile, he’s maintaining the presence of mind to keep returning fire on the enemy and to try to suppress them overwhelming that four-vehicle convoy, or patrol,” Hall said. “The vehicle behind them was stuck, and Gustafson reloads no less than two times and wakes up his driver, tells him to push the burning vehicle behind them out of the kill zone, all while bleeding out and refusing medical aid for his severed leg.
“I look at it and say, ‘What more does it take for a guy to get a Medal of Honor?’”
Remarkably, three other Marines with connections to 2/7’s deployment in 2008 received the Navy Cross. They are Master Sgt. Brian Blonder, Gunnery Sgt. John Mosser and Cpl. Richard Weinmaster. Blonder, then a gunnery sergeant, was in a Force Reconnaissance platoon attached to 2/7, while Mosser was a staff sergeant in Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command in a mission supporting 2/7. Weinmaster, a private first class, threw himself between his fire team leader and a grenade that was tossed over a wall in Sangin district, according to his Navy Cross citation.
Blonder’s Navy Cross came for heroism in Shewan, the same village in which Gustafson was wounded three weeks later. That engagement also yielded three Silver Stars.
Hall said he also can see the actions of Weinmaster, who left the Corps in February 2010, as deserving consideration for the Medal of Honor, but he wants to zero in on getting Gustafson a look first. He decided to pursue the effort after watching other service members receive Medals of Honor for actions in Afghanistan that he believes were similarly heroic.
Last year, Hall said his old battalion deserves the Presidential Unit Citation for its sacrifices and valor in 2008. The comments came as units that fell under Marine Expeditionary Brigade – Afghanistan received the award for valor in Afghanistan from mid-2009 to mid-2010. Hall plans to continue pushing for the award, the unit-level equivalent of a Navy Cross.
“It probably didn’t fare as well for us as it should have,” he said. “We had so many significant actions on our deployment, it was really hard to differentiate levels of valor because everybody was in a firefight, pretty much. We had SigActs every day.”