A recipient of the Navy Cross and Marine behind one of the most iconic photographs from the Iraq War retired from the Corps after 34 years of service.

Sgt. Maj. Bradley Kasal handed over the reigns as sergeant major of I Marine Expeditionary Force to Sgt. Maj. James Porterfield at a ceremony held at Camp Pendleton, California, on May 18.

“I want every Marine and sailor to understand they enlisted for a reason and a purpose,” said Kasal in a command release. “That purpose was to do something better, to swear to support and defend the constitution, and to be a part of something greater. I ask the Marines and sailors to always be proud of that.”

Kasal was awarded the Navy Cross in 2006 for his heroic actions during one of the Corps’ most hallowed battles in Fallujah, Iraq, Operation Phantom Fury on Nov. 13, 2004.

Freelance photographer Lucian Read snapped one of the most iconic pictures of the war showing a blood-soaked Kasal still gripping a pistol and Ka-bar exiting a house under the aid of fellow Marines.

Kasal, then a first sergeant with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, had entered the house after learning Marines were pinned down inside.

The first sergeant and another Marine were severely wounded in the legs from enemy fire. Insurgents threw hand grenades to finish off the wounded Marines but Kasal “rolled on top of his fellow Marine and absorbed the shrapnel with his own body,” according to the award citation.

Kasal refused medical attention until other Marines were treated.

A statute of Kasal’s storied heroics and the famous photograph was unveiled at the Wounded Warrior Battalion-West aboard Camp Pendleton in November 2014.

“The monument is a symbol of camaraderie that’s important to Marines, not only in combat but in the healing process as well,” Robin Kelleher, president of Hope for the Warriors, which contributed to constructing the monument, said in a news release. “There’s a saying, ‘Never leave a Marine behind’, and I think the monument exemplifies that. It gives wounded warriors hope, and hope is important for them to be able to recover.”

With Kasal’s retirement, Porterfield has taken over as the sergeant major for I Marine Expeditionary Force.

“I am both honored and humbled to continue to lead the legacy of I MEF,” Porterfield said in a command release. “Throughout our history I MEF has been the warfighting organization that our country and nation has leaned on.”

Kasal was appointed I MEF sergeant major in February 2015.

Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.

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