The winners of the coveted annual Marine Corps Association and Foundation Ground Awards this year ranged from leaders who’d served to prepare the Corps for the amphibious fight to critical combat roles fighting ISIS in Iraq and the Philippines.
Gunnery Sgt. Scott Koppenhafer was named the Marine Special Operator of the Year for his role leading Marine Special Operations Team 8223 out of Golf Company, 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, Marine Raider Regiment to a “masterfully orchestrated success” of guiding elite Iraqi Special Operations Forces that “directly contributed to the defeat of ISIS forces in northern Iraq.”
Those combined and joint operations defeated Islamic State forces in that section of the nation last year, according to the award citation read at the May 3 ceremony.
Capt. Kyle Rodgers, led the Special Operations Task Force 511.2 in support of Operation Pacific Eagle-Philippines from January to December 2017. The captain conducted “advise and assist” missions with Joint Task Force Marawi, a 7,000-man unit that facilitated the retaking of the city of Marawi, which had been under the control of ISIS-P, a Philippine-based ISIS-aligned organization.
He was awarded the Douglas A. Zembiec Award for outstanding leadership in the Marine Forces Special Operations Command, for his role as team commander.
“His leadership and efforts led to more than 800 enemy killed in action, to include the FBIs most wanted terrorist in the region,” according to remarks made from his award citation. “And the complete disaggregation of ISIS-P leadership in the southern Philippines.”
That most wanted terrorist was Isnilon Hapilon, who was killed in October, according to an Associated Press report.
Marine gunner Chief Warrant Officer-2 Mark Erhardt was named the Corps’ top gunner at the ceremony for his role with 1st Battalion, 7th Marines for operations “on and off the battlefield.” Based on the citation read at the ceremony, those on-battlefield actions included building expeditionary ranges in Iraq and Jordan as well as resolving “immediate tactical issues at advanced operating bases.”
And to the sea, the Corps’ legacy and future.
Maj. Gregory Veteto was named the Lt. Col. William G. Leftwich trophy award winner for outstanding leadership by a ground combat arms company or battery commander.
Veteto was instrumental in conducting advanced planning, testing and validation of amphibious fighting concepts while serving with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the amphibious transport dock San Diego last year where he led Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines and the Beach Landing Team 1/5, also serving as the Ground Combat Element Planner and Senior Infantry Unit Commander aboard the ship.
Other awardees included the following Marines:
• 1st Marine Division Marine of the Year: Sgt. Robert A. Dewitt, assistant team leader, Team 3, 2nd Platoon, Force Reconnaissance Detachment, 1st Reconnaissance BN, 1st Marine Division
• 2nd Marine Division Marine of the Year: Sgt. Kyle Reece, ATL, 2nd Recon BN, 2nd Marine Division
• 3rd Marine Division Marine of the Year: Cpl. Victor Rangel, reconnaissance Marine, 3rd Marine Division
• 4th Marine Division Marine of the Year: Sgt. TerMarlon Blair, Squad Leader, Company A, 4th Combat Engineer BN.
• Best Tank Crew in the Marine Corps: GySgt. Jamal Yousef, tank commander; Sgt. Austen Hensley, gunner; Cpl. Dominic Koert, loader; Cpl. Triston Holsher, driver.
• Col. Justice Marion “Jumping Joe” Chambers Award for outstanding leadership: Capt. Samuel C. Carlson, Executive Officer, Golf Company, 2nd BN, 24th Marine Regiment.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.