MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, Aug. 13,
2011 – Removed from an ambushed platoon of Marines and
soldiers in a remote Afghan village on Sept. 8, 2009, his
reality viciously shaken by an onslaught of enemy fighters,
then-Marine Corps Cpl. Dakota Meyer simply reacted as he
knew best - tackling what he called "extraordinary
circumstances" by "doing the right thing -- whatever it
Then-Marine Corps Cpl. Dakota Meyer poses for a photo while deployed
in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan's
Kunar province. Meyer will receive the Medal of Honor from President
Barack Obama on Sept. 15, 2011, making him the first living Marine
recipient of the nation's highest award for valor in combat since
the Vietnam War. Meyer was assigned to Embedded Training Team 2-8
advising the Afghan army in Afghanistan's eastern provinces
bordering Pakistan. Courtesy photo
Nearly two years later, the White House
announced yesterday that the 23-year-old Marine scout sniper
from Columbia, Ky., who has since left the Marine Corps and
is now a sergeant in the Inactive Ready Reserve, will become
the first living Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor in
38 years. Retired Sgt. Maj. Allan Kellogg Jr. received the
medal in 1973 for gallantry in Vietnam three years earlier.
Meyer is the second Marine to receive the medal for
actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. Cpl. Jason Dunham was
awarded the medal posthumously for covering a grenade with
his body to save two Marines in Iraq in 2004. President
Barack Obama will present the award to Meyer at the White
House on Sept. 15.
"The award honors the men who gave
their lives that day, and the men who were in that fight,"
Meyer said. "I didn't do anything more than any other Marine
would. I was put in an extraordinary circumstance, and I
just did my job."
Though bleeding from shrapnel
wounds in his right arm, Meyer, aided by fellow Marines and
Army advisors from Embedded Training Team 2-8, braved a
vicious hail of enemy machine-gun and rocket-propelled
grenade fire in the village of Ganjgal to help rescue and
evacuate more than 15 wounded Afghan soldiers and recover the bodies
of four fallen fighters -
1st Lt. Michael Johnson, Gunnery Sgts. Aaron Kenefick and Edwin Johnson Jr.,
and Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class James Layton.
advisor Army Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook died at Walter
Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Oct. 7, 2009,
from wounds suffered in the firefight.
through the battle zone five times to recover the dead
Marines and injured Afghan soldiers, risking his life even
when a medical evacuation helicopter wouldn't land because
of the blazing gunfire.
"There's not a day - not a
second that goes by where I don't think about what happened
that day," Meyer said. "I didn't just lose four Marines that
day; I lost four brothers."
Author Bing West, a
retired Marine infantry officer and combat veteran of
Vietnam, detailed Meyer's actions in the battle in "The
Wrong War," and praised Meyer for taking command of the
battle as a corporal - the most junior advisor in this
West said Meyer should have been killed,
but he dominated the battlefield by fearlessly exposing
himself to danger and pumping rifle and machine gun rounds
into the enemy fighters.
"When you leave the
perimeter, you don't know what's going to happen, regardless
of what war you're fighting in," Kellogg, who lives in
Kailua, Hawaii, said. "Once you get to a point where you
make the decision - 'I'm probably going to die, so let the
party begin' - once you say in your mind you aren't getting
out of there, you fight harder and harder."
his career with the same regiment from which Kellogg retired
in 1990, Meyer deployed with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine
Regiment, to Fallujah, Iraq, in 2007, and earned a
meritorious promotion to corporal in late 2008 after
returning from the deployment.
Before leaving for
Iraq, Meyer completed the Marine Corps' 10-week Scout Sniper
Basic Course, and committed himself to preparing himself and
his snipers for combat. They attended lifesaving classes
taught by Navy corpsmen and honed their skills with myriad
weapons systems, such as light machine guns. Meyer also
spent time in his battalion's communications section
learning how to call for mortar and artillery fire.
"I devoted my whole life to making the best snipers in the
Marine Corps," Meyer said. "They're a direct reflection of
your leadership. If you fail them in training, it could get
them killed on the battlefield."
In February 2009,
Meyer volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan's dangerous Kunar
province and mentor Afghan soldiers as part of an embedded
training team, the type of role usually filled by U.S.
"A Marine who seeks the challenge of
joining his unit's scout sniper platoon has to have a lot of
drive and determination," said Col. Nathan Nastase,
commanding officer of 3rd Marine Regiment and formerly
Meyer's battalion commander at 3/3. "Being assigned to the
ETT was a huge vote of confidence in his abilities."
Meyer deployed to Afghanistan on the ETT in July 2009.
"Our mission was to help prepare the Afghans to take
over their own country and provide security for themselves,"
Meyer said. "ETTs make a huge impact on the outcome of the
In Kunar province, Meyer and another ETT
advisor would lead squads of 15 Afghan soldiers on patrols.
Since he could speak Pashto, the local language, so well,
Meyer often separated from the element with his Afghan
When his patrol fought to rescue another
from an ambush Sept. 8, 2009, Meyer's focus on advising gave
way to surviving, and on what he had to do to keep himself
and his men alive.
"I lost a lot of Afghans that
day," Meyer said. "And I'll tell you right now, they were
just as close to me as those Marines were. At the end of the
day, I don't care if they're Afghans, Iraqis, Marines or
Army; it didn't matter. They're in the same [stuff] you are,
and they want to go home and see their family just as bad as
Thrown into unimaginable circumstances,
Meyer said the Afghan soldiers and his sniper training saved
his life during the battle.
Jacody Downey is a close
friend of Meyer's from Kentucky. He's seen his friend grow
from a fun-loving "jokester" in high school to a driven
Marine who deeply respected both elders and subordinates.
"Dakota has always cared more about others than he does
himself," Downey said. "Even if he's not with his Marines
now, he's still constantly thinking about them, worrying
about them and calling to check on them. He still considers
Cpl. David Hawkins grew as a Marine
under Meyer's leadership in 3/3's Scout Sniper Platoon.
"Meyer was an ideal leader," Hawkins, from Parker,
Colo., said. "He knew everything about the Marines
underneath him - how they'd respond to every situation, not
only on a Marine Corps level but also on a personal level."
Hawkins said he was deeply humbled by Meyer's concern as
a friend, especially after being injured in Afghanistan last
year. Hawkins was severely wounded by an improvised
explosive device in Afghanistan Sept. 24, 2010. Four days
later, he lay static in a stark hospital room, riddled with
shrapnel. After groggily emerging from anesthesia into a
blurry reality, Hawkins' phone rang - the first call from a
friend. Without fail, Meyer's jovial drawl broke through the
"In the Marine Corps, you always hear that
if something's broke, you've got to work to fix it, but you
never really see the Marine who does it," Hawkins said.
"Meyer is that Marine. If he had something to say, he'd say
it, and he wasn't really afraid of repercussions for what he
said. If it needed to be changed, he changed it."
Hearing his friend would receive the Medal of Honor didn't
surprise Hawkins. In light of the "character" and "country
boy" Hawkins knows, Meyer's actions were simply the
manifestation of how he lived and led.
destined for the Medal of Honor," Hawkins said. "If you got
to work with him, you'd see it."
Meyer completed his
tour on active duty in June 2010. He went home to Kentucky,
where he's found purpose working with his hands in a family
"Pouring concrete is kind of like the
Marine Corps," Meyer said. "When you wake up in the morning,
you've got a job ... like a mission. There's no set standard
on how to do things, but you just have to go out there, make
decisions and get it done - and that's like the challenge of
the Marine Corps. Once you're satisfied with what you've
done, you stop getting better."
Meyer is the 86th
living Medal of Honor recipient, and he joins a small, elite
group of heroes, a reality that will often require him to
conjure up haunting reminders of the battles he has fought,
the friends he has lost and the painful regret he bears.
"I'm not a hero, by any means - I'm a Marine, that's
what I am," he said. "The heroes are the men and women still
serving, and the guys who gave their lives for their
country. At the end of the day, I went in there to do the
right thing, ... and it all boils down to doing the right
thing, ... whatever it takes. All those things we learn stick
in your head, and when you live by it, that's the Marine
Though Meyer will receive the Medal of Honor
for what he did in Ganjgal, he insists he will wear the
five-pointed medallion and blue silk ribbon to honor his
fallen brothers, their families and his fellow Marines.
"Being a Marine is a way of life," Meyer said. "It isn't
just a word, and it's not just about the uniform - it's
about brotherhood. Brotherhood means that when you turn
around, they're there, through thick and thin. If you can't
take care of your brothers, what can you do in life?"