MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, NC -- During a ceremony aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C. May 11, 17 Marines and three sailors from Battalion Landing Team, 1st Bn., 2nd Marines received the Purple Heart Medal for wounds sustained in Iraq earlier this year.
Deployed as the ground combat element of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), BLT 1/2 spent more than two months in Iraq’s dangerous Al Anbar province conducting counterinsurgency operations.
The first of the group to receive his Purple Heart was Pfc. Justin A. Reynolds, who was wounded by an improvised explosive device, Feb. 3. The blast left Reynolds, a native of Lima, Ohio, with catastrophic injuries that included broken bones, lacerations, and paralysis of the left side of his body from a resulting bacterial infection. Even though he may never walk again, the Charlie Company infantryman said the mission he fought has been worth the pain.
“It’s totally worth it,” said Reynolds. “It’s worth it because I know Iraqi children will have a chance at a better life. I’m glad to help people less fortunate than us, and I know we’re making a difference [in Iraq].”
Among those present to witness the ceremony was Ann Reynolds, who said she was simply glad too see her son come home alive. She said after she heard her son was alive, she could deal with anything else that came along.
“When a mom finds out that her son is hurt, and she can’t do anything about it, that is the worst feeling in the world,” said Ann. “We made it through two deployments, so now I’m just glad he’s home.”
Another Marine injured in an IED attack was Golf Battery artilleryman Sgt. Chris J. Filley, whose vehicle was struck by an IED during a vehicular patrol through the city of Hit. After the initial blast, the insurgents waited for the Marines to exit their vehicles and detonated a second explosive charge and unleashed a hail of small arms fire. With shrapnel embedded deep within his left forearm, Filley relied upon his training to radio for help and bring his patrol home.
“My instincts and what I’d been taught during my career took over,” said Filley, of Kankakee, Ill. “When my Marines talk to me about what happened and what I did, I don’t even really believe it myself. Honestly, it’s all still a blur.”
Filley, a combat veteran of Afghanistan, said the hardest thing about this deployment was finding out he would have to leave the war zone early.
“The toughest thing about coming home early was leaving my squad behind and not being there for them,” said Filley. “We work together, play together and live together, it just didn’t seem right to leave them behind.”
For Lance Cpl Michael P. Savoie, the Purple Heart ceremony was nothing new. A machine gunner with Alpha Co., the Westwego, La. native received a Purple Heart for a gunshot wound during his 2004 deployment to Iraq and his second after suffering facial burns during a Jan. 24 IED attack against his convoy.
“I always consider myself lucky,” said Savoie. “I’m lucky to be back and lucky to be alive.”
Scheduled to deploy again next March, Savoie considers the inherent dangers of serving as a combat Marine acceptable to continue doing what he loves, he said. “I’m a grunt, it’s what I do,” he stated.
In addition to the 20 warriors recognized today, 19 other Marines and sailors were wounded during the MEU’s tour in Iraq, and have either already received their Purple Heart or will during upcoming ceremonies.
The 22nd MEU (SOC) returned from its six-month deployment to the European and Central Command theaters earlier this month. The unit consists its Command Element, BLT 1/2, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced), and MEU Service Support Group 22.
For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC), visit the unit’s web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.