A Marine was awarded a Purple Heart on July 27 for wounds sustained during combat operations in an undisclosed country.
Lance Cpl. Dillon Bennett, a machine gunner with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, was awarded the Purple Heart at a ceremony at Twentynine Palms, California, for wounds he sustained during combat operations on July 9, according to a posting from the Defense Department’s imagery distribution site, DVIDS.
However, the captions accompanying the photos fail to disclose the combat theater the Purple Heart was earned.
“Bennett received the Purple Heart for wounds sustained while deployed to his area of operations on July 9, 2018,” the photo reads.
So where was the Marine operating?
The young machine gunner likely was wounded during operations in Syria, where Marines are assisting U.S. partner forces known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, battle the last remaining pockets of ISIS fighters in the Euphrates River valley in Syria.
But the Corps has recently been tight-lipped about its operations in the war-torn region, and has even scrubbed images and references to its operations in Syria.
Photos of a June 20 visit by Marine Corps Lt. Gen. William D. Beydler, commander of Marine Corps Forces Central Command, to Marines in Syria were scrubbed from DVIDS after questions about the mission were raised by Marine Corps Times.
“Unfortunately, the Marines do not answer questions while their troops are still on mission — which is why the images you archived are no longer available,” Army Col. Thomas F. Veale, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, told Marine Corps Times in an emailed statement. “One of our subordinate units published those shots on DVIDS, not knowing the Marines’ policy, and we pulled them down for force protection considerations and to honor the Marines’ policy.”
It’s no secret that Marines are assisting anti ISIS operations across Iraq and Syria, but it’s unknown when or why the Corps decided to clamp down on even basic information about its deployments there.
The deployment of Marine artillery support for the Raqqa liberation campaign was highly publicized. The ISIS-declared capital was liberated on Oct.17, 2017.
And as early as April 24, 2018, another Marine was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds sustained in Syria.
Sgt. Cameron T. Halkovich, a combat engineer with 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division was awarded the Purple Heart at a ceremony aboard Camp Pendleton, California, at end of April.
“Halkovich was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in action on Feb. 17, 2018 in Syria,” the photo caption in DVIDS reads.
In late June, the DoD posted a photo of a Marine KC-130J flying out of an “undisclosed location,” the caption reads.
Open source analyst sleuths claimed to have geolocated the airfield to a region in northern Syria.
While the Corps isn’t talking about it recent operations in Syria, ISIS’ last bastion along the Euphrates River in Syria is likely to fall in the next couple of months, French Brig. Gen. Frederic Parisot, director of civil military operations for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters late July.
Marine Corps Times reached out to the Marine Corps and officials with U.S. Central Command Operation Inherent Resolve regarding the Purple Heart and have yet to receive a response.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.