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Courage in the face of 'near-certain death:' how two Marines gave everything to save their comrades

Capt., SSgt. charged Afghan shooter to save fellow Marines

Jan. 19, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Capt. Matthew P. Manoukian, left, and Staff Sgt. Sky R. Mote were posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for actions while deployed to Afghanistan in 2012. The Marines charged an Afghan uniformed police officer, wielding an AK-47, who attacked from inside the perimeter of their tactical operations center. (Marine Corps)
Staff Sgt. Sky R. Mote was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for actions while deployed to Afghanistan in 2012. He was assigned to 1st MSOB, Marine Special Operations Regiment, MARSOC, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom when they came under intense enemy fire from an Afghan uniformed police officer attacking from inside the perimeter of their tactical operations center. (Marine Corps)

An instant of shock and a hail of bullets from an enemy dressed as a friend. Outgunned, they nevertheless rushed the threat, putting duty and their comrades' safety before their own. They fell fighting.

An instant of shock and a hail of bullets from an enemy dressed as a friend. Outgunned, they nevertheless rushed the threat, putting duty and their comrades' safety before their own. They fell fighting.

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An instant of shock and a hail of bullets from an enemy dressed as a friend. Outgunned, they nevertheless rushed the threat, putting duty and their comrades’ safety before their own. They fell fighting.

Capt. Matthew Manoukian and Staff Sgt. Sky Mote, both with Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command’s 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, were posthumously awarded the Navy Cross in a Jan. 18 ceremony aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif. They were honored for selfless heroism in the midst of an insider attack during a deployment to the Sangin district of Afghanistan’s Helmand province in 2012. Manoukian, 29, of Los Altos, Calif., was the leader of Special Operations Team 8133; Mote, 27, of El Dorado, Calif., was an explosive ordnance disposal technician on the team.

On Aug. 10, 2012, an Afghan National Police officer who had gotten inside the perimeter of the team’s tactical operations center opened fire on the center’s operations room. Bullets ripped through the walls as Marines sought cover. Then the shooter advanced.

Mote was in an adjacent room as the attacker entered the building with his AK-47. He had a choice: to run from danger before the man with the automatic weapon had a chance to see him, or to grab his M4 service rifle and enter the operations room to engage him directly.

He chose the latter.

According to Mote’s medal citation, he ran into the room, exposing himself to a barrage of bullets in an effort to save his fellow Marines.

“In his final act of bravery, he boldly engaged the gunman, now less than five meters in front of him, until falling mortally wounded,” his citation reads.

Meanwhile, Manoukian had seen a spray of AK-47 bullets perforating the walls of the center and now watched the shooter enter the room and begin firing on two Marines, critically wounding one. In the far corner of the room, Manoukian was armed with only a pistol. He knew this made him no match for a killer with an automatic weapon, but he didn’t hesitate.

He advanced on the attacker, drawing his gunfire as he shouted at the Marines to get to safety.

“With one of the two Marines now critically wounded, Captain Manoukian courageously drew heavy fire upon himself and continued to engage the enemy until he fell mortally wounded from the shooter’s overwhelming fire,” his citation reads.

Together, Mote and Manoukian forced the attacker to withdraw from the operations center. One other Marine, Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Jeschke, was killed in the attack.

Manoukian had been a Marine officer since 2006 but had known he wanted to be a Marine since he was 7 years old, his father, Socrates “Peter” Manoukian, said.

He had deployed to Iraq twice, joining MARSOC in 2009. His work helping to establish the rule of law and local governance in Sangin district during his first deployment to Afghanistan in 2010 inspired him to pursue the legal field; he planned to begin law school in 2013.

Peter Manoukian said his son didn’t like fame or attention; when he received the first of his two Purple Hearts for being wounded in action, he didn’t want to wear it because he didn’t feel that he had been hurt badly enough.

Of receiving the military’s second-highest honor for valor, Manoukian said his son would want to share the glory.

“He would say that it was the whole team, that it was the whole mission,” he said.

Mote, also a Purple Heart recipient, was known for his bravery and adventurous spirit. He once saved the life of a captain by making his way through a minefield to provide medical care and apply tourniquets after the officer had stepped on an improvised explosive device, according to reports in the Los Angeles Times. He had been in the Marines since 2003 and had deployed to Iraq once, twice to Afghanistan, doing the risky work of disarming and disposing of explosives.

Mote’s family did not return requests for comment. But since his death, they have become strong supporters of the MARSOC community he loved, competing in fundraising events, including a triathlon, to raise funds for the MARSOC foundation.

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