CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- In a somber ceremony held inside Camp Lejeune's Goettge Field House Sept. 17, 13 Marines and a Sailor from Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines were awarded the Purple Heart Medal for wounds sustained during combat operations in Afghanistan earlier this year.
As the ground combat element of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), BLT 1/6 provided the main combat punch for the MEU's highly successful offensive campaign in central Afghanistan that, according to senior military officials in Afghanistan, caught anti-government factions off-guard and 'rocked [them] back on their heels.'
More than a hundred Taliban fighters were killed by MEU forces during the unit's nearly five months of combat operations in Afghanistan, and their ability to wage attacks against the central government and voter registration efforts were severely hampered.
Those decorated with the Purple Heart included:
Cpl. Stephen S. Shaw (1st Plt., Alpha Co.) - received multiple shrapnel wounds to his face when Taliban forces attacked the vehicle he was riding in with a remote-controlled improvised explosive device (IED) and direct enemy fire on the road from Kandahar to Tarin Kowt on April 24.
Lance Cpl. Thomas D. Hankins Jr. (3rd Plt., Alpha Co.) - received a severe concussion that required medical evacuation when Taliban forces attacked the vehicle his vehicle on April 24 with an IED on the road from Kandahar to Tarin Kowt.
Staff Sgt. Jason B. Thompson (Light Armored Reconnaissance Platoon) - wounded by rifle fire when his patrol was ambushed by Taliban forces May 7 near the village of Tawara.
Hospitalman 3rd Class Robert S. Spejcher (Light Armored Reconnaissance Platoon) - received multiple shrapnel wounds and a ruptured ear from an enemy rocket-propelled grenade May 7 near the village of Tawara.
Lance Cpl. Brett A. Miller (Light Armored Reconnaissance Platoon) - suffered a ruptured ear drum and severe abrasions that required evacuation after an enemy rocket-propelled grenade impacted mere feet from his position May 7 near the village of Tawara.
Staff Sgt. Anthony L. Viggiani (2nd Plt., Charlie Co.) - wounded in the leg by enemy rifle fire during a firefight on June 3 near the village of Khabargho.
Cpl. Randy S. Wood (2nd Plt., Charlie Co.) - received a wound to his left cheek from enemy rifle fire during the June 3 firefight near the village of Khabargho.
Lance Cpl. James E. Gould (2nd Plt., Charlie Co.) - shot through the left calf by an enemy sniper near the village of Khabargho on June 3.
Lance Cpl. Kristopher D. Turner (Headquarters & Service Co.) - shot through the hip after his communications vehicle was ambushed near Caghmat village on June 4.
Sgt. Scott A. Kitrell (Combined Anti-Armor Team) - sustained numerous shrapnel wounds to his upper legs during an enemy ambush on June 8 near the village of Sandabuz.
Cpl. David B. Stringer (Combined Anti-Armor Team) - shot in the leg during a Taliban ambush near the village of Sandabuz on June 8.
Lance Cpl. Jeremy M. Collins (2nd Plt., Charlie Co.) - received a shrapnel wound to the face during a dismounted assault through a string of Taliban emplacements on June 8 near the village of Sandabuz.
Lance Cpl. Christopher B. Ezell (Combined Anti-Armor Team) - received gunshots wounds to the hand and upper thigh during an ambush near Sandabuz village on June 8.
Lance Cpl. Darryl J. Toquinto (Combined Anti-Armor Team) - shot in the foot during the June 8 Taliban ambush near Sandabuz.
A fifteenth Purple Heart was awarded to the family of Cpl. Ronald R. Payne Jr., a light armored reconnaissance scout who was killed in action on May 7 when his patrol was ambushed by Taliban fighters on May 7.
Payne was shot in the chest when he exposed himself to enemy fire to lay down suppressive fire that enabled a critically-wounded Staff Sgt. Thompson to drag himself behind cover. Minutes later, Payne was mortally wounded by shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade. For this selfless act of heroism, Payne was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal with combat distinguishing device.
While the wounded BLT 1/6 Marines were receiving their Purple Hearts, Cpl. Daniel Lasko, a motor transport operator with MEU Service Support Group 22, was also decorated for his actions at the onset of the MEU's combat operations.
Lasko was driving the truck that fell victim to the remote-control IED on April 24 and the injuries he sustained in the blast required that his right foot to be amputated. While recovering from his wounds at a hospital near Washington, D.C., Lasko was awarded the Purple Heart by the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield, and on September 17 was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his service in Afghanistan.
The Purple Heart was originally concieved as the Badge of Military Merit by Gen. George Washington as a means to award meritorious service. Over the years, criteria for the award has changed several times until World War II when the Purple Heart medal was formally designated to recognize those wounded in battle.
In addition to BLT 1/6 and MSSG-22, the MEU consists of its Command Element and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced). The MEU returned to the United States September 15.
For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC), visit the unit's web site at http://www.22meu.usmc.mil.