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Insurgent ambush stage for valiant displays in Iraq

18 Jun 2004 | Lance Cpl. Samuel Bard Valliere

Four Marines and one sailor were honored here June 10, 2004, for displaying valor during an hour-long firefight that killed 14 insurgents.

At an early-evening ceremony, troops from 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment's Weapons Company were presented with medals recognizing their performance during the April 10, 2004, gun battle.

Cpl. Zachary D. Smith received a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a combat "V," a device that signifies the medal was earned in combat. Petty Officer 2nd Class Greg Cinelli, Sgt. Jason D. Woodward, Cpl. Billy B. Wallis and Lance Cpl. Cody J. Wilson were all awarded Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, also with the "V."

Insurgents attacked a squad from the reserve infantry battalion with roadside bombs, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire.

The unit, which provides security for 1st Force Service Support Group here, was patrolling the area around the camp.

The mission was not new. The Marines were familiar with the task and the road; they had traveled down it numerous times on the same kind of mission.

The routine suddenly changed when a homemade bomb exploded next to the lead vehicle, thrusting Weapons Company into its first of two firefights since it arrived here in March.

The bomb blast knocked Wallis, who was manning a grenade launcher mounted on the roof of his humvee, back inside the vehicle.

Unaware of the shrapnel lodged in his face, neck and arm, the 22-year old from Springfield, Mo., popped back up and continued firing grenades at the attackers.

When other Marines told him he was losing blood, he replied, "I ain't got time to bleed."

Wallis, who was also awarded the Purple Heart, insisted he did no more than any other Marine in the fight.

"Everybody out there reacted the same way," he said. "We just did our job."

Immediately following the explosion, the Marines darted from their vehicles, took cover behind a house and fired at a nest of insurgents inside two houses about 400 meters away.

When an enemy bullet punctured the helmet of 20-year-old Aurora, Mo., native Lance Cpl. Curtis Hensley, Cinelli, 33, a corpsman from Haverhill, Mass., braved the fusillade and put his own safety aside to bandage the injury before Hensley, with the bullet lodged in his brain, was medically evacuated. 

"If it had been one inch lower, there would have been nothing I could do about it," said Cinelli.

Cinelli directed his comrades, who were distracted by Hensley's injury, to keep their focus on suppressing the enemy attack.

He and two others dragged Hensley to a vehicle and rushed him back to the base. After dropping him off at the battalion's medical station, Cinelli "turned around and went right back out there," rejoining the Marines in the fight.

Meanwhile, reinforcements arrived.

One of the company's mobile quick reaction forces was in the vicinity of the patrol and rushed over to assist the ambushed Marines.

Woodward, 25, a squad leader with the reaction force, ordered Smith to move to a position that would enable him to kill insurgents in a nearby field and also put the Marines in place to attack the house from the side.

To accomplish this, Smith, 26, dauntlessly led his four-man team across about 500 meters of farmland with very little cover from enemy fire.

The task wasn't easy, Smith said, adding that the enemy fire was uncharacteristically accurate for insurgents.

"It was getting pretty hairy there for a little while," said the Springfield, Mo., native.

The worst part was slithering on his back across a shallow ditch to reach a nearby berm for cover while enemy rounds impacted all around him and his assistant fire team leader, Lance Cpl. Buckley C. Cain, a 22-year-old also from Springfield.

The fight concluded when helicopters swooped in and pummeled the building housing the insurgents.

Smith said sharing the combat experience has brought him closer to his Marines.
"I was so proud of my guys," he said. "They did exactly what they were supposed to. It was perfect."

Wilson, 19, a rifleman in Woodward's squad, earned his medal not just for commendable actions during the firefight, but for another occasion where he spotted and reported an enemy mortar position and several roadside explosives during patrols before anyone was wounded or killed.

Two other Marines received Purple Hearts for wounds received during the firefight: Lance Cpl. Patrick S. Henderson, 24, of Kansas City, Mo., and Lance Cpl. John K. Tinsley Jr., 19, a Fayetteville, Ark. resident.

Two companies from the battalion, based in Bridgeton and Springfield, Mo., provide security for the camp. The other three companies are spread throughout the I Marine Expeditionary Force's area of operations.

Editor's note: Hensley, who lost his right eye as a result of his injury, is currently recovering in Aurora. He received a Purple Heart.
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