Second Marine Division Sgt. Maj. Bryan Zickefoose congratulates Sgt. Ryan Steinkamp on Aug. 28. The rifleman with 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, led his squad through a hostile village in Afghanistan in 2012 and cleared more than 50 compounds. (Lance Cpl. Scott Whiting/Marine Corps)
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A rifleman from Camp Lejeune received the Silver Star on Aug. 28 for leading a successful night mission in 2012 that cleared more than 50 enemy compounds near an Afghan village without causing a single civilian casualty.
Sgt. Ryan Steinkamp, a squad leader with 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, was pinned with the military’s third-highest valor award for his decisive battlefield leadership during a lengthy and grueling combat engagement while attached to Regimental Team Combat 6 in Afghanistan.
On April 17, 2012, Steinkamp and his squad were inserted by helicopter near the village of Payawak in Afghanistan's Helmand province, close to Forward Operating Base Delaram for a night mission that would become a test of combat skills and endurance. Steinkamp led the squad across 800 meters of terrain laced with mines en route to clear Payawak of insurgents, according to his award citation.
When the squad arrived at its objective, they were beset by enemy ambushes from multiple positions.
As they took direct and indirect fire from insurgents, Steinkamp led his squad to a compound where they sheltered and formed a plan for counter-attack, according to the citation.
He later emerged from the safety of the compound and began pelting the enemy’s position with grenades. As the insurgents fell back, Steinkamp’s squad cleared the first portion of the village, clearing 10 compounds before encountering more enemy fighters. The Marines, led by Steinkamp, engaged the enemy using small arms, grenades and demolitions weapons, according to the citation. Steinkamp also called in AH-1 Cobra air assets as the fight continued.
The ordeal would last 12 hours. At the end of it, Steinkamp and his squad had taken out five fortified enemy positions, cleared more than 50 compounds and more than 500 meters of “dense vegetation,” and completed a successful friendly casualty evacuation, with no civilian casualties and while wounded himself.
“Throughout the day, [Steinkamp] made sound tactical decisions and maintained his composure through close-quarters combat,” his citation reads. “His actions and leadership helped set the conditions for local security forces to safely occupy Payawak.”
Steinkamp received the award in a small unit ceremony aboard Camp Lejeune that was closed to the press by his request.
At the ceremony, with family members from Des Moines, Iowa, in attendance, Steinkamp praised the work his unit had done during the 12-hour mission.
“They were the ones who executed everything,” he said, according to a Marine Corps news release. “I couldn’t serve with finer Marines.”
Brig. Gen. James Lukeman, the commanding general of 2nd Marine Division, said Steinkamp had earned his award with courage and heroism.
“Steinkamp demonstrated all the skills of the Marine squad leader in a very long day of combat in Afghanistan,” he said.