At a time when few Marines were venturing outside the wire in Afghanistan, 1st Lt. James Salka patrolled in enemy territory nearly every day.
Salka, the executive officer of Echo Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, 2/6 out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, received the Bronze Star with combat valor device for heroism on Monday. He is credited with conducting over the course of 166 combat patrols during a 2013-2014 deployment to Afghanistan, including dozens of encounters with enemy fighters and a daring rescue in which he carried an injured Marine nearly a quarter of a mile on his back to safety.
Salka deployed to Helmand province, Afghanistan, in September 2013 as a platoon commander with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. The battalion was part of Task Force Belleau Wood, a unit responsible for the safety of Camp Leatherneck, the Marines' sprawling headquarters in the region.
"Our fight was mud hut to mud hut," Salka said of the deployment, according to a Marine Corps news release. "At this time in the war, there were very few units who were patrolling outside the base. So in most cases, our presence was the only deterrence against insurgency."
Officials did not immediately respond to Marine Corps Times' requests for an interview with Salka. But according to his medal citation, During the seven-month deployment, according to his medal citation, Salka and his platoon engaged insurgents with direct fire 45 times during a seven-month deployment. They and sustained 11 rocket-propelled grenade attacks and five improvised explosive device attacks. One of these was an 80-pound IED that struck Salka's vehicle Feb. 27, 2014, leaving him with a mild concussion.
Though injured, Salka remained in control, according to a lengthy summary of action provided to Marine Corps Times. He coordinated a surveillance mission around the location of the blast and directed his platoon to cordon off the site until explosive ordnance disposal technicians could arrive.
The most intense mission during Salka's deployment was a Nov. 6 heliborne raid on Mama Karez village in Helmand's Now Zad district, called Operation Nightmare IV by military commanders.
Salka, who served as the assistant raid force commander for Bravo Company, would quickly find found himself in the thick of an enemy assault. The force conducting the raid was split into two elements from the start to clear the village from the east and west.
But both elements quickly came under attack from enemy forces, and the western flank found itself was pinned by machine gun fire. Salka moved in with a squad to reinforce the western flank, engageding insurgents withe direct fire and calleding in 60mm mortars and high mobility artillery rocket system rounds on enemy positions.
Later during the operation, he was put in charge of securing landing zones for airborne extraction of the Marines. As the birds landed amid enemy machine gun fire and Marines began to climb aboard, Salka saw one injured Marine, identified by officials as Lance Cpl. Johnathan Burns, fall to the ground. To protect Burns from incoming fire, he Salka threw a smoke grenade, then lifted the Marine onto his shoulders and carried him nearly 400 yards a remaining 350 meters to the aircraft, getting him safely aboard.
"[Salka's] remarkable courage preserved the lives of many as he placed himself in peril, and his incredible efforts inspired the Marines around him and undoubtedly swing the momentum in the raid force's favor," his medal citation states announces.
Salka received his award from Maj. Gen. Brian Beaudrault, the commanding general of Camp Lejeune's 2nd Marine Division. He is set to deploy again with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit later this year.