Marine veteran awarded Silver Star

Retired Marine Sergeant Matt Parker received the Silver Star at Camp Lejeune, N.C., March 18, 2016. Parker took over his unit after a severe, multi-pronged attack hit his patrol in Afghanistan.

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — A former squad leader Marine who stepped up to lead his fellow Marines through a vicious firefight in Afghanistan was awarded received the nation’s third-highest valor award Friday, military decoration for his heroism today, nearly five years after the fact intense battle.

Standing at attention in a sharp civilian suit, former Sgt. sergeant Matthew Parker was awarded the Silver Star by Maj. Gen. Brian Beaudreault, commander of the 2nd Marine Division, at a ceremony here in front of members of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines.

Parker, who medically retired from the Corps in February. 2015, served as a squad leader with 3/2 during the unit’s 2011 deployment to Helmand province.

While on a reconnaissance patrol on May 21, 2011, his platoon was crossing suddenly encountered a platoon-sized enemy in a prepared defensive position who opened up on the Marines right after they’d crossed a small riverbed when they were suddenly hit with enemy fire. The insurgents were armed with grenade launchers, recoilless rifles, machine guns and small arms.

"The only reason we were really going over there is because we had reports of a recoilless rifle," Parker told Marine Corps Times. "We were just trying to see if we could get eyes on it so we could call in an airstrike."

With hen his platoon commander and platoon sergeant were knocked out of the fight, and with his fellow Marines pinned down facing increasingly intense enemy fire, Parker took charge. He and began issuing orders to coordinate the Marines' ir fire and movement while the enemy's attack intensified.

"Parker is the exact example of what you're expected to do," Col. Chris Dixon, Parker's battalion commander at the time, told the squad leaders in formation at the ceremony. "You have to take charge no matter the situation and get the mission done, regardless of what it takes to do it."

Parker He called in for close-air support and supporting rocket attacks. The firefight went on for nearly eight hours before the Marines and, over an approximately eight hour engagement, forced the enemy to withdraw. Parker then as well as arranged for the injured Marines to be evacuated of casualties.

Retired marine sergeant Matt Parker received the Silver Star at Camp Lejeune, N.C. March 18, 2016. Parker took over his unit after a severe, multi-pronged attack hit his patrol in Afghanistan. (Daniel Woolfolk/Staff)
Retired marine sergeant Matt Parker received the Silver Star at Camp Lejeune, N.C. March 18, 2016. Parker took over his unit after a severe, multi-pronged attack hit his patrol in Afghanistan. (Daniel Woolfolk/Staff)

Medically retired Sgt. Matt Parker is presented with the Silver Star during a Friday ceremony at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Photo Credit: Daniel Woolfolk/Staff

His Parker’s actions on the battlefield that day serve as an example of on May 21st, 2011, manifested everything the Marine Corps wants to teach its young non-commissioned officers, Beaudreault said.

"Your leadership is down, your sole squad leader is down, you’re thrust in a situation that, if given a choice, you probably didn’t want to have to get yourself into, but your training kicked in," he said. "But your training kicked in, your character kicked in, your concern for your fellow Marines kicked in — and most importantly, you won."

Although the Marines’ victory under Parker’s impromptu leadership that day epitomized the unit’s highly successful 2011 deployment to Helmand Province, much of it was overshadowed when a video emerged in 2012 showing 3/2 Marines urinating on Taliban corpses.

Parker was not involved, but his and his fellow Marines’ award nominations was ere put on hold - along with the unit’s reputation - while the incident was investigated.

With his and other’s awards finally being presented, Parker said the incident should not define the unit’s legacy. It’s good to know the unit's successes weren't did downrange wasn't hasn’t totally been forgotten, he said.

"Because of that incident, a lot of really good people and good things that took place were not recognized," he said. "It's sad because there are a lot of people — not just me — who worked really, really hard."

Parker is the second 3/2 Marine in weeks to be awarded for combat heroism during the May 2011 battle. For example, fellow 3/2 Marine Staff Sgt. Nathan Hervey finally received his the Bronze Star with combat "V" in early February. While serving as a scout sniper section leader during the same deployment, Hervey put himself in the line of fire in order to save his comrades during an ambush. He went on to defeat the platoon-sized enemy force.

For his part, Parker said he didn't do anything special that day. reflected on his actions that with complete humility.

"I didn’t do anything special," he said. "I just did what I was supposed to do and luckily I had good Marines who were backing me up," he said. 

Two of those Marines — Lance Cpl. Jabari Thompson and Sgt. Mark Bradley  — Parker noted, were not able to attend the ceremony:

Lance Cpl. Jabari Thompson, Parker’s automatic rifleman and machine gunner, was killed in action about  approximately two months later while on patrol. About a month after Thompson's death, Sgt. Mark Bradley, a sniper for the platoon, was killed in action approximately a one month after that while providing over-watch for the unit.

"They were two great Marines and I just want to let everyone know they were also there and not forgotten," Parker said.

Matthew L. Schehl covers training and education, recruiting, West Coast Marines, MARSOC, and operations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East for Marine Corps Times. He can be reached at mschehl@marinecorpstimes.com.