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Marines in tanks unit decorated for bravery in Afghanistan

Jan. 25, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
1st MarDiv CG awards '1st Tanks' Marines
Maj. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general of 1st Marine Division, congratulates Capt. Christopher Ashinhurst, commander of Company D, 1st Tanks, after pinning Ashinhurst with a Bronze Star with 'V' device at the unit's tank ramp on Jan. 21. (Cpl. D. J. Wu/Marine Corps)
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Two noncommissioned officers and a captain from a West Coast tank battalion were honored Jan. 21 for exemplary service and bravery during deployments to Afghanistan.

Capt. Christopher Ashinhurst, commander of Delta Company, 1st Tanks, out of Marine Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., received the Bronze Star with combat device for a series of combat engagements during his 2013 deployment.

Lance Cpl. Matthew Gonzales and Cpl. Arturo Zavala Jr., M1A1 tank crew members with the battalion’s Alpha Company, received Navy and Marine Corps Medals for saving their tank driver from drowning when the vehicle flooded while crossing a stream.

According to medal citations, Ashinhurst led his company through an intense five-day fight against an enemy contingent that had surrounded and isolated a Marine special operations team at Village Stability Platform Shurakay in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. Under his leadership, the company killed 60 insurgents and disrupted the enemy’s efforts.

Later, according to citations, Ashinhurst led his company to the aid of allies at Combat Outpost Shir Ghazay after the outpost had been attacked by a car bomb and breached by four enemy fighters, rendering aid to a Georgian soldier and organizing the transport of casualties to medical aid.

He then moved tanks into position around the COP to guard against further attacks.

“His fearlessness in the face of the enemy and boldness of action inspired his men and those around him,” Ashinhurst’s summary of action reads. “His unhesitating reaction assisted in breaking up the enemy follow-on attack, saved the life of at least one Georgian soldier, and secured the COP from follow-on attacks.”

According to their medal citations, Gonzales and Zavala saved a life on Feb. 25, 2012, during a separate deployment to Afghanistan. As they were crossing a wadi, or narrow stream, their tank suddenly flooded, dropping into more than 8 feet of water. The two Marines got out of the tank, but when they realized the driver was still trapped inside, they plunged back into the water, which was freezing and had a dangerous current.

The two worked together, diving under the icy water to free the driver and pull him to safety.

After the Marine was safely out of the water, Zavala went back.

“Refusing assistance, he continued working in the frigid water to recover his tank until he collapsed due to exhaustion and exposure to the cold,” his citation reads. “His efforts led to the recovery of his tank and minimized the damage to a five million dollar combat vehicle.”

Ashinhurst, Gonzales and Zavala received their awards from Maj. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general of 1st Marine Division, during a ceremony at Twentynine Palms.

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