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Service Heroes Receive Awards at USO Gala

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2007 – Five military members received the USO’s Service Hero award last night before an audience of hundreds who gathered at the National Building Museum here for the 66th annual USO World Gala.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Spc. Marion D. Pettus III, left, the USO's Soldier of the Year, poses with Gen. George W. Casey, Jr. at the 66th annual USO World Gala held Sept. 21, 2007 in Washington, D.C. Defense Dept. photo by John J. Kruzel
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The United Service Organizations, which has provided morale and recreational services to military members worldwide since 1941, recognized a hero from each service branch during the gala.

The audience stood and applauded Marine Sgt. Justin L. Clough, Army Spc. Marion D. Pettus III, Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel J. Walsh, Air Force Senior Airman Nicole P. O’Hara, and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Samuel S. Jordan after stories that chronicled the servicemembers’ courage were read aloud.

Clough was a squad leader with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, who led his Marines on more than 100 combat patrols in Iraq. The squadron frequently came under attack from direct and indirect fire and improvised explosive devices, and Clough impressed upon his Marines the value of working closely with close-air operators in case the need for combat assistance or a medical evacuation should arise.

The sergeant was so confident in his unit’s ability, he said, that even though he lived in an area crawling with insurgents, he lived without fear.

“You’ve basically got your family there to look out for each other, so it gives you a false sense of security all the time,” he said.

Clough’s illusion of security was shattered the day after Christmas 2006. While conducting a routine patrol in a sparse, sandy section near Fallujah, Iraq, a sniper shot him, sinking a bullet into a section of flesh unprotected by body armor.

“It went in my right hip, came out my left hip, nipped my femoral artery and bruised my sciatic nerve,” Clough said. “I don’t have any feeling in my left foot or movement in my left foot any more.”

Clough hit the ground moments after being shot. He was losing blood so rapidly that he quickly blacked out.

Clough’s comrades immediately took control of the situation. Within 10 minutes, they stopped the sergeant’s bleeding and called in a helicopter to evacuate him. The hours of training and practice runs that Clough had conducted with his Marines would ultimately save his life.

While still unconscious, Clough made his homecoming from Iraq. “The next thing I remember is waking up New Year’s Day in Bethesda (Naval Hospital) intensive care unit,” said the Marine, whose first instinct was to confirm that his battle buddies back in Iraq were safe.

Clough returned to his parents’ home in Stonington, Conn., where he now undergoes outpatient rehabilitation. The tiny town of roughly 18,000 greeted him with open arms, the sergeant said.

“The first selectman of the town there gave me Justin Lewis Clough day,” he said. “It’s my own little day there in the town of Stonington.”

In addition to being honored as the USO’s Marine of the Year, Clough also has been recommended for the Bronze Star with Combat “V” for valor.

Pettus, an Army Section Medic with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, was on combat patrol in Baghdad in August 2006 when an IED detonated nearby.

“We were rolling through a route called ‘Screaming Lady’ and we got hit with an IED. I saw a local (Iraqi) go down and called it out,” Pettus recalled. “My section sergeant decided to turn the patrol around, so we went back and dismounted.”

Pettus’ patrol joined another coalition force patrol already assisting the injured Iraqi.

“Me and the other unit’s medic started pulling him out of the street, and the secondary IED went off,” he said.

Pettus said the additional IED had been planted by insurgents who intended to kill forces as they responded to the first detonation, a common tactic in irregular warfare. The second bomb failed to take a servicemember’s life, but the blast injured one of Pettus’ sergeants, and sent shrapnel into the arm of the medic assisting Pettus with the wounded Iraqi.

The specialist tended first to his sergeant and then helped the injured medic. After hoisting the wounded into trucks to be evacuated, Pettus had a surprising revelation.

“As we got into the truck on the way to the cache, I felt my leg burning. I realized that I’d gotten hit in the leg and didn’t even know it,” he said. “We got a bandage put on my leg. We got back to (Forward Operating Base) Liberty, and when I took my Kevlar off and put my hand on top of my helmet, I realized I had a hole in it.”

Pettus suffered traumatic brain injury in the second blast. Despite receiving shrapnel in his head, the soldier said, he’s making great progress with his recovery.

The USO honored the humbled specialist, who claims he was only doing his job, for the medical expertise, courage and selflessness he displayed which ensured the safety of those around him during combat. The recipient’s father, Marion D. Pettus Jr., was unable to attend the ceremony. The elder Pettus currently is serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Walsh, the Coast Guard’s recipient, was one of the first people to respond to an explosion May 26 aboard the Khwar al Amaya Oil Terminal, an Iraqi oil terminal located in the North Arabian Gulf.

While Walsh and fellow servicemembers traveled aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Baronof, a blast ignited a massive fire on the oil platform, dumping thousands of gallons of crude oil into the sea and threatening workers’ lives.

“A decision was made that we needed to get some people off,” Walsh recalled. “So Baranof launched her small boat, and myself and the coxswain of the small boat went over to the oil platform and were fortunate enough to pull some people off and deliver them to Baranof were they received medical attention.”

The USO recognized Walsh as the top Coast Guardsman of the year for the bravery he showed while rescuing seven Iraqis. But the petty officer is quick to dismiss such high praise for his heroics.

“In the Coast Guard when you’re onboard a ship, every sailor is a firefighter, so you’re always kind of training for something like that,” he said. “The training really takes over in that situation, and you just do what you have to do.”

Air Force recipient O’Hara earned the USO award for courage she showed during Operation Iraqi Freedom as an M2 machine gunner with the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. While traveling by convoy at night on a main supply route in Iraq, insurgents ambushed O’Hara’s unit from both sides, using automatic weapons.

Donning night vision goggles, O’Hara identified the insurgents’ locations and engaged them with a .50-caliber machine gun. With bullets ricocheting off the gun turret around her, O’Hara led her convoy’s counterattack, killing six enemy fighters and defending her convoy until it safely exited the danger zone.

The USO recognized O’Hara for her bravery, technical expertise and decisive action in combat, which saved the lives of 39 U.S. servicemembers.

Jordan, the USO’s Navy sailor of the year, deployed to Iraq with the 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment. During one of many treks over the country’s dangerous roads, the hospital corpsman’s convoy was ambushed near Fallujah, causing the lead vehicle to catch fire.

Moments later, a Marine engulfed in flames emerged from the vehicle. As a second Marine attempted to aid his comrade, the pair came under heavy machine-gun fire. Jordan, exposing himself to enemy attack, ran to the scene and instructed the second Marine to return to his vehicle to provide cover fire.

Using his bare hands, Jordan smothered the fire as it charred the Marine’s flesh. With the flames extinguished, the hospital corpsman noticed the burn victim lost his leg during the ambush.

Despite suffering second-degree burns, Jordan instinctively applied a tourniquet and other lifesaving measures, protecting the wounded Marine until a rescue vehicle arrived.

In addition to earning the USO’s Navy sailor of the year, Jordan has received the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device, Combat Action Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal and a Fleet Marine Force Warfare Device.

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