CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
Five Marines with 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), were awarded for their efforts to help contain a fire at the Supply Management Unit lot here, May 16.
The fire broke out at the SMU lot, which destroyed most of the supply inventory and the Repairable Issue Point inventory, to include uniform items, medical supplies, construction materials and repair parts. As the fire began to spread to nearby facilities, several Marines responded to help contain the blaze.
For their actions that night, Sgt. Wesley M. Slattery, Cpl. Nalton B. Antonio, Cpl. Wayne G. Watkins, Lance Cpl. Benjamin J. Johnson and Lance Cpl. Ryan M. Williams, heavy equipment operators with 7th ESB, 1st MLG (FWD), were awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal from the commanding general of 1st MLG (FWD), May 25.
"Your actions were nothing but heroic," said Brig. Gen. Charles L. Hudson, commanding general of 1st MLG (FWD). "You put yourself in harm's way. We talk about running to the sound of the guns. Well, this time you were moving to the smoke of the fire."
As the fire grew out of control, the five Marines rushed to the fire with their Medium Crawler Tractors and helped create fire lanes for vehicles and personnel to get out, recalled Hudson, 51, from Zirconia, N.C. Then they moved boxes to create a barrier and prevent the fire from spreading to the nearby fuel farm.
In addition to helping contain the fire, a sand storm rolled in, which impeded the Marines' efforts, fanning the flames and hindering their visibility significantly, making it even more difficult to contain. But the Marines were determined to tame the inferno and salvage what supplies they could.
According to the Marines' Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal citations, "facing the fire in burning debris, [they] continued clearing, despite the effects of compressed gas explosions and a severe sand storm."
"'Great, I can't see,' was the first thought that came into my mind," said Antonio, 22, from Albuquerque, N.M. "Our actions that night, it might be courageous and heroic like everyone said. But at the same time, it was a little bit frightening. I was a little nervous. We got so close to the fire pushing stuff, we couldn't see anything."
At one point, their tractors appeared to catch fire, so the Marines got out of the dozers, cleared them off and pushed through, recalled Hudson after presenting the Marines their medals.
"It's awesome that we got the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, but I don't think that any of us were going in there thinking we'd get something out of it at all," said Slattery, 26, from Yuba City, Calif. "All we were concerned about was saving whatever we could for the units that are operating forward. The major concern was that it would hamper their missions."
Having just completed their seven-month tour, the Marines are heading home with their heads held high, knowing they have contributed to the creation of a new chapter in the history of 7th ESB.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.