Cpl. Michael Ouellette was a squad leader with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, leading a patrol in Nowzad District, Afghanistan, when an explosive device severed his left leg on March 22, 2009.
Despite the incapacitating injury, and the shrapnel that cut through his body, Ouellette maintained his composure and continued to lead his Marines through a harrowing ambush.
As his Marines came under direct fire from enemy machine guns and assault rifles, Ouellette aided his radio operator in bringing down accurate aircraft strafing runs within 20 meters of his squad’s position.
The aircraft gun runs suppressed enemy fire and allowed a fire team to reach reinforcements, who then made their way to the ambushed squad.
Ouellette held his position and continued to relay orders to his squad until he was loaded into an ambulance, where he lost consciousnesses, and eventually succumbed to his wounds.
For his heroism on the battlefield that day, Ouellette was posthumously awarded the nation’s second highest award for combat valor, the Navy Cross. Details of his heroic exploits were laid out in an award citation.
Ouellette today remains a legend with the Marines of 3/8, and a forward operating base in Afghanistan was even named in commemoration of the fallen hero.
To honor the unit and its legacy, Donna Ouellette, Michael’s mother, donated $10,000 dollars for a memorial room at the battalion in remembrance of her son and the Marines who served with him, Stephanie Ouellette, Michael’s sister, told Marine Corps Times. Cpl. Ouellette’s mother passed away in November 2017.
But now, the command plans to alter that memorial, potentially moving some pieces of the dedicated room to the barracks to make way for what the command told Marine Corps Times is an updated space that will commemorate 3/8′s actions since World War II.
However, Stephanie says she’s been told five different things about what will come of her brother’s memorial room within the last 24 hours, all “reportedly” coming from the command staff.
She told Marine Corps Times Thursday evening that she has yet to talk to the battalion’s commanding officer Lt. Col. Neil R Berry, and only learned of the pending alterations from a Facebook post from a 3/8 Marine on Memorial Day.
That Facebook post moved like a wildfire across Facebook and Twitter, deriding the command’s decision to move the room.
“Marines of 3/8 past and present I want you to know about what is going on at 3/8 currently and why our traditions and the memory of those who have gone before us is dying in today’s Marine Corps," the original Facebook post reads.
Stephanie says she wished she didn’t have to learn about the changes to the memorial through social media posts, and described the command’s decision to not call her first as “disrespectful.”
"I wish that somebody had just reached out to me, they know how to get a hold of me. Instead I had to reach out to them, and that is sad I guess. I expected more from them. I expected more from the Marine Corps,” she told Marine Corps Times.
“This whole thing is about more than my brother, it’s about the whole legacy of the 3rd battalion 8th Marines. It’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than my family, this runs so much deeper," she said.
The 3/8 command, as of Thursday evening, has been in contact with the Ouellette family through a third party, but not directly, Capt. Kelton J. Cochran, a 2nd Marine Division spokesman, told Marine Corps Times in an emailed statement.
Cochran explained that as the project moves forward, the command plans to keep the family updated and will invite them to the rededication ceremony.
The new updated room, Cochran said, will still have Cpl. Ouellette’s citation, plaque, photo, and additional items, which will serve as a centerpiece.
“3/8 is committed to all Marines, Sailors, and their families, both past and present. It is the spirit of the Marines and Sailors that have gone before us that give us our strength to continue to fight and win our battles - it is what makes us Marines!," Berry said in an emailed statement to Marine Corps Times.
“There are many who have served in this Battalion who have demonstrated this quality, but few have done it like Cpl. Michael W. Ouellette. Cpl. Ouellette represents the essence of what we hold dear. He is, and will remain, a Battalion hero with a permanent place of remembrance,” Berry said.
Some of the recreational items that were purchased for the memorial room, like a pool table, was suggested to be moved to the Lima Company barracks — the unit Cpl. Ouellette was assigned to, Cochran said.
“It is 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine’s (3/8) hope to capture the spirit of Cpl. Ouellette in a way that illustrates to the next generation of Marines and Sailors what makes the battalion, and the Marine Corps, so special,” Cochran added.
Stephanie said her mother donated a total of $20,000 to the Corps, and that $10,000 went to the Marine Corps birthday ball celebration — money she say’s came from her brother’s life insurance.
Cochran told Marine Corps Times that he was not able to determine the costs or money donated for the memorial.
But Stephanie added that the money is not the issue, and that the room was never meant to be a “shrine” to her brother — it was about honoring and remembering the Marines who served with him.
She explained that Corps could have handled this issue “better” and that if they really needed the room for another project they should have just called.
“But to say nothing and then to find out on Memorial Day, which is right after my brother’s birthday was a slap in the face,” she said. Michael Ouellette’s birthday is May 25.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.