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Marine cited for Iraq embassy mission amid ISIS advance

A Marine Corps infantry officer who led Marines on a tense embassy-security mission in Iraq amid following the rise of the Islamic State group's rise is this year's recipient of the service's prestigious Leftwich Trophy.

Maj. Daniel Grainger served as the company commander of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, in 2014 during a near nine-month 2014 deployment with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. Then a captain, Grainger said he and his Marines were on standby in late-July to reinforce or evacuate the U.S. Embassy in Libya when security began deteriorating in Iraq.

"In true MEU fashion, we're sitting on that mission when things started to heat up with ISIS in Syria in Iraq," Grainger told Marine Corps Times, using an acronym for the terror group.

In August, he and about 150 Marines arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to bolster security there as Islamic State militants launched an offensive in northern Iraq, conquering significant areas like Mosul and Tikrit. For his work during on that deployment, Grainger will receive was selected as the 2014 Lt. Col. William Leftwich Jr. Trophy for Outstanding Leadership. Each year, the Marine Corps chooses a top infantry captain to honor.

Lt. Col. Paul Merida, the executive officer of 6th Marine Regiment's executive officer, who nominated Grainger for the award, calling ed the decision to do so a "no-brainer." Grainger combines a strong command presence with a tireless work ethic, Merida said. He's always thinking about what's next, he said, shaping future events to gain the maximum benefit for his Marines.

"Major Grainger's Bravo Company was among the best, if not the best, rifle company I have ever seen in nearly 20 years of service," he said. "Great rifle companies have great rifle company commanders. ...To say he was the best captain I've ever seen would not be an understatement."

Grainger and his Marines were the first conventional infantry ground troops to reinforce the embassy in Iraq. He oversaw led about 150 grunts there from August to October, relieving about 30 Marines with a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team who had been there since June.

Bolstering embassy security is a vital mission that hundreds of Marines have been called to fulfill following a deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Grainger said he worked closely with State Department's security personnel to determine best practices for interoperability. The mission to guard that embassy continues today with ground troops from the Marine Corps' newly formed crisis response force for the Middle East taking over for Grainger's company in October.

While in Baghdad, Merida said, Bravo Company performed exceptionally well, earning top praise from senior-level State Department personnel. The Marines didn't "wing" anything, he said, but planned methodically and efficiently. And Grainger in particular had a habit of taking something that was running smoothly and making it even better, Merida said.

Grainger, a prior-enlisted Marine, worked closely with his company gunnery sergeant and built unit cohesion across the unit. He created a company that was so well-run that Marines were proud to be a part of it, Merida said.

That kind of attitude led to success down the road, paving the way for the embassy security mission in Iraq to continue running smoothly today, two units later. Grainger credits his Marines for establishing that level of professionalism and success.

"By the time we went in there, they had been on deployment for five-plus months," he said. "It's kind of a thankless task, standing watch or being in an over-watch position under the sun in August or September in Baghdad. They were on point, understood and supported the mission."

Now the commanding officer of Recruiting Station Sacramento, Grainger oversees 100 Marine recruiters and 13 substations. He could spend hours naming leaders who've influenced his career, including Brig. Gen. Julian Dale Alford, another Leftwich Trophy recipient who was the commanding officer of The Basic School when Grainger taught there; Merida, his former commander; and Maj. Ben Wagner, whom he calls his "Marine Corps big brother."

Leading Marines is humbling opportunity, he said, and he tries to learn something from everybody he serves with, whether that person is a junior, senior or peer. He calls his leadership style a compilation of everyone he's ever worked which, which is why he said he sees the Leftwich Trophy as a team award.

"It's a recognition of the hard work, the commitment and the service of the Marines I was fortunate to lead there at Bravo Company 1/6," Grainger said. "It's too bad the award can't recognize all of them, so I see it as symbolic of what they really did."

The Leftwich Trophy is named for Navy Cross recipient Lt. Col. William G. Leftwich Jr., who was killed in Vietnam in 1970 while overseeing an emergency air extraction of a reconnaissance team.

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