The Envoy

Medal of Honor recipient highlights Marine’s valor as well as risks US troops faced under controversial rules of engagement

The Envoy

On Thursday, President Obama will award the Medal of Honor to Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer.

Meyer will become the third living recipient--and first Marine--to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan, the White House said. He is also the first living former Marine to receive the highest U.S. military honor since the Vietnam war, a Marine Corps press officer told The Envoy Wednesday.

The heroic conduct Meyer displayed in saving the lives of 13 fellow Marines and 23 Afghan soldiers occurred in September 2009 in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. The rules of engagement in place at the time have caused controversy and some bitterness.

Meyer was serving as a member of a Marine Corps training team embedded with Afghan National Army forces in Gangjal, Afghanistan on September 8, 2009.

"A full moon was drenching the mountains in ghostly light as some 60 Afghan soldiers, 20 border police officers, 13 Marine and U.S. Army trainers and I set out for Ganjgal at 3 a.m. from the U.S. base in the Shakani District," McClatchy national security reporter Jonathan Landay, who was embedded with the unit at the time, reported in September 2009.

The team was ambushed and came under sustained Taliban fire and rocket attack. However, U.S. commanders repeatedly denied the request to unleash artillery rounds and provide air cover, under rules of engagement then recently put in place to reduce civilian casualties.

"U.S. commanders, citing new rules to avoid civilian casualties, rejected repeated calls to unleash artillery rounds at attackers dug into the slopes and tree lines—despite being told repeatedly that they weren't near the village," Landay reported. "We waited more than an hour for U.S. helicopters to arrive, despite earlier assurances that air cover would be five minutes away."

By the time helicopters arrived, four U.S. Marines had been killed, as well as eight Afghan troops and the U.S. Marine commander's Afghan interpreter. Meyer risked his life to retrieve their bodies.

"Over the course of a six-hour fire-fight, without regard for his own personal safety, Meyer entered the kill zone five separate times to evacuate the wounded, provide essential aid and, ultimately, saved the lives of 13 U.S. Marines and soldiers in addition to 23 Afghan soldiers," the Marine Corps wrote in a summary of Meyer's heroic actions meriting the citation. "Meyer personally killed at least eight Taliban insurgents, while providing cover for his team to fight their way out and escape certain death."

"It's hard: you're getting recognized for the worst day of your life," Miller said of the citation for the heroic actions performed in the midst of an ambush in which four of his friends were killed.

Meyer, born in 1988, completed his active duty service in June 2010, and currently serves in the Marine Corps Reserve's Individual Ready Reserve. He lives in Kentucky where he works in the construction industry. He met with President Obama at the White House Wednesday for a beer.

The last living former Marine to receive the Medal of Honor was in 1973: "Now-retired [Marine] Sgt. Maj. Allan Kellogg . . . received the Medal from President Nixon at the White House on Oct 15, 1973," Military Times' Dan Lamothe reported.

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