A Navy corpsman who will receive the Silver Star said he was just doing his job when he shot and killed a rogue Afghan commando during a 2014 insider attack.
Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Alejandro Salabarria will be awarded the nation's third-highest valor medal Friday by Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, at a ceremony aboard Marine Corps Base Lejeune, North Carolina.
On Sept. 15, 2014, while deployed with the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion to Herat, Afghanistan, Salabarria took out the rogue commando after the Afghan opened up on his team and fellow Italian and Afghan special operations personnel.
"I just happened to be at the right place at the right time," Salabarria told Marine Corps Times. "Anybody would have done the same; it just happened to be my day."
Salabarria and the teams were grouped and waiting at a landing zone for two inbound CH-47 Chinook helicopters to carry them on a pre-dawn mission.
What was weird in hindsight, he said, was that he had been assigned to a supporting element for that mission. He was normally assigned to the main element, which would have put him closer to the shooter.
Suddenly the landing zone was shaken by a loud explosion — a 40mm round launched by an M240 grenade launcher — followed by successive bursts of automatic rifle fire.
"At first we were stunned; we weren't outside the wire," Salabarria said. "It took a couple seconds to realize what was going on. Was it an [accidental discharge]?"
Instinctively, Salabarria and those around him hit the deck to assess the situation.
"I heard screaming and saw the muzzle flash, but I wasn't going to shoot until I knew who was who," he said.
So Salabarria stood up and belted out, "Who's hit?"
A nearby interpreter replied that the senior medic had been shot. Without hesitation, Salabarria dashed about 100 yards into the kill zone to reach the wounded corpsman.
He had just begun assessing the casualty when he noticed the shooter 20 to 30 yards away bearing down on them.
"He wasn't running, he was walking real slow," Salabarria said. "The dude's shooting at me, at my patient."
He said he didn't have time to think, he just reacted: He threw his weight on the wounded corpsman to protect him from the shooter, raised his M4 service rifle and put several rounds into the Afghan.
Salabarria waited a couple of seconds to ensure he was dead before continuing to treat the medic.
Another combat lifesaver-trained Marine arrived, and they evacuated the senior medic to a safer location: the two CH-47s, now retasked for casualty evacuation, would be arriving soon and the landing zone needed to be cleared.
Salabarria returned to triage and move the other wounded and give further first aid until the helicopters arrived.
One of these was Marine critical skills operator Sgt. Charles Strong, who despite Salabarria's efforts, later died from his injuries.
The birds arrived. Salabarria assisted others to swiftly load the casualties before jumping on one of the helicopters for take-off.
He stayed with them on the flight, continuing care, until they arrived at the nearest medical facility at base Arena, Herat province, where Army doctors took over.
The Marine Corps described his actions as heroic:
"[Salabarria's] bold actions ultimately saved the lives of his fellow team members and Afghan Commando partners," his Silver Star citation reads.
Salabarria is not convinced, however, and said he was just doing his job.
The only importance to him of receiving the Silver Star, he said, was that it would hopefully bring some closure to the families of the fallen.
His only request for Friday's ceremony was that they would be in attendance.
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 email@example.com.