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Controversial Marine Corps unit recognizes a war hero

A Marine infantry battalion that was embroiled in a war-zone scandal will present a former squad leader with the nation's third-highest valor award this week — nearly five years after he led his comrades out of an intense firefight in Afghanistan.

Former Sgt. Matthew Parker, who served as a squad leader with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, during the unit's 2011 deployment to Afghanistan, will be presented with the Silver Star on Friday during a ceremony at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Marine Corps Times has learned.

Parker is being recognized for stepping up to lead his platoon when his commander and another squad leader were injured in an attack while operating in Helmand province's Musa Qala district, according to his award citation.

Matthew Parker, a former squad leader with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, will receive the Silver Star on March 18.

Photo Credit: Pvt. Brian M. Woodruff/Marine Corps

While Parker's actions serve as an example of the success 3/2 showed on the battlefield during what was highly held as a successful deployment, much of it was overshadowed when a video surfaced in 2012 showing other Marines with his unit defiling enemy remains.

Parker was not involved, but his award nomination — along with several other personnel matters within the unit — was put on administrative hold, said 1st Lt. Joe Caldwell, a Marine spokesman.

The award then had to go through the approval process, Caldwell added. Parker's Silver Star was approved by Commandant Gen. Robert Neller on Dec. 31.

On May 21, 2011, Parker and his platoon were attacked by an entrenched enemy force. The insurgents were armed with small arms, machine guns, anti-tank-style weapons and grenade launchers.

When the Marines' platoon commander and another squad leader were injured in the attack, Parker sprang into action.

"Sergeant Parker boldly assumed control as the ground force commander of two rifle squads, a combined anti-armor team section, a vehicle mobile element and a sniper team," the award citation states.

Under a barrage of enemy fire, Parker coordinated the platoon's maneuvers until they were able to strike the enemy from three directions. When the insurgents hit back with intense machine gun and recoilless rifle fire, Parker "calmly and precisely coordinated for close-air support and high-mobility artillery rocket system strikes that destroyed two enemy machine gun positions," his citation states.

He seized that opportunity to guide supporting fires while continuing to direct his Marines. As a result, the enemy was forced to withdraw.

Parker helped evacuate the wounded Marines, despite continued sporadic fire from the insurgents as they withdrew. He led the Marines to safety at the closest patrol base.

"By his zealous initiative, courageous actions and exceptional dedication to duty, Sergeant Parker reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service," his citation states.

Parker was not the only member of 3/2 to be nominated for a valor award during that deployment. One of the snipers involved in the controversial video was put up for a Bronze Star with combat device, but that award has never been issued.

That Marine's sniper platoon was credited with killing hundreds of insurgents and integrating tanks into their missions — a highly successful move outside of normal sniper doctrine. The Corps' top leaders visited the team downrange that fall to congratulate the Marines on their accomplishments.

Parker could not immediately be reached for comment about his award. He medically retired from the Marine Corps in February 2015, according to a Marine official.

Gina Harkins is the editor of Marine Corps Times. She oversees reporting on Marine Corps leadership, personnel and operations. She can be reached at gharkins@marinecorpstimes.com.

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