The Department of Defense has identified two Marine Raiders who were killed Sunday in Iraq while clearing a tunnel complex full of Islamic State fighters.
Gunnery Sgt. Diego D. Pongo, 34, of Simi Valley, California, and Capt. Moises A. Navas, 34, of Germantown, Maryland, were the two Marines killed, according to a Department of Defense press release Tuesday morning.
Both Marines were assigned to the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, Marine Forces Special Operations Command, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Pongo joined the Corps in 2004 as an 0311 rifleman. In 2008 he completed Scout Sniper Basic Course and was a sniper team leader when he deployed to Afghanistan in with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.
He became a Marine Raider in 2011 where he completed deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, a release from Marine Forces Special Operations Command said.
Pongo’s personal awards included a Bronze Star Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device, a Purple Heart, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, two Combat Action Ribbons, the Army Valorous Unit Award, four Good Conduct Medals, two Humanitarian Service Medals, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and four Sea Service Deployment Ribbons, the MARSOC release said.
Gunnery Sergeant Scott A. Koppenhafer, 35, of Mancos, Colorado, died August 10, 2019, after being engaged by enemy small arms fire while advising and accompanying Iraqi security forces on a planned operation in Ninewah, Province, Iraq. This incident is under investigation.
Navas also enlisted in the Corps in 2004, becoming a sergeant before earning his officer commission through the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program, the MARSOC release said.
He became a Marine Raider in 2016 where he spent the last four years as a team commander and company executive officer, the release said. Navas had recently been selected for promotion to Major the release added.
His personal awards included a Purple Heart, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, two Good Conduct Medals, and the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, the Humanitarian Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and four Sea Service Deployment Ribbons, according to the release.
“The loss of these two incredible individuals is being felt across our organization, but it cannot compare to the loss that their families and teammates are experiencing," Col. John Lynch the regimental commander for the two Raiders killed, said in the statement.
“Both men epitomize what it means to be a Marine Raider," Lynch added. " They were intelligent, courageous, and loyal. They were dedicated leaders, true professionals in their craft, and willing to go above and beyond for the mission and their team.
The Marines were working with Iraqi special operators in a large operation to clear out ISIS outposts in the southern Makhmur Mountains in Iraq, Marine Corps Times reported Monday.
The fighting was so intense and the region so remote it took coalition forces six hours to recover the bodies of the two Marines, according to officials.
The military estimated that between 17–19 ISIS fighters were killed in the operation.
The two Marines were part of Operation Inherent Resolve, a multinational operation started in 2014 tasked with defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
The two new deaths bring the total of troops killed in action as part of OIR to 19, according to the Defense Casualty Analysis System.
The last American service member killed in combat as part of Operation Inherent Resolve was also a Marine Raider ― Gunnery Sgt. Scott A. Koppenhafer, 35, of Mancos, Colorado.
Koppenhafer died in August 2019 while advising Iraqi forces in its fight against the Islamic State in Ninewah province, Iraq, Marine Corps Times previously reported.
“On behalf of the Marine Raider Regiment and all of MARSOC, our most sincere condolences go out to the families of Gunnery Sgt. Pongo and Capt. Navas,” Lynch said.
“In times like these we come together and rely on each other, sharing our burdens and providing strength to those that need it. We will do everything we can to lift up and support our grieving families in order to honor the incredible lives and the ultimate sacrifices of Gunnery Sgt. Pongo and Capt. Navas,” Lynch added.