MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Acting boldly in the face of adversity is something all Marines are taught. Against an enemy loath to engage Americans directly, few Marines get to test their mettle in combat and fewer still distinguish themselves so heroically that their gallantry merits special recognition.
One day after President Bush awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously to Cpl. Jason Dunham, another hero of the Iraq war, 1st Lt. Elliott Ackerman of 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, on Friday accepted the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest military award for valor.
Ackerman, a 26-year-old native of Washington, D.C., was recognized for his courage under fire while serving as a platoon commander during the November 2004 battle to wrest Fallujah from the grip of fanatical insurgents.
Brig. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, Assistant Division Commander, 2nd Marine Division, presented the award as Ackerman’s family and fellow Marines looked on.
The citation summarizing then-2nd Lt. Ackerman’s actions covers a six-day period that began on Nov. 10, 2004, when his platoon came under fire from a heavy enemy counterattack.
“We had a mission to get a foothold for the battalion,” said Ackerman, who returned last month from his second deployment, the latest as a member of Battalion Landing Team 1/8, the ground combat element of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. “We saw that the original building we intended to go in to just wouldn’t work to get that mission done. We pushed a little bit deeper than it probably would have been prudent to do.”
Pushing deeper ensured his unit would accomplish its mission, but the advance left him and his Marines more exposed to enemy fighters, who responded by pouring heavy fire on the Marines’ position.
As his Marines began to take injuries, Ackerman sprang to action, twice pulling his Marines to safety and coordinating their evacuation. The amphibious-assault vehicle sent to retrieve his Marines had trouble finding them, lost in the fog of war. Ackerman again risked his life, charging into the open from a covered position to flag down the vehicle and direct it to his Marines’ location. His actions took him through a “gauntlet of deadly enemy fire,” according to the citation.
“From that position that day, we were a little exposed,” he recalled. “Insurgents came out and slowly tried to surround us.”
For Ackerman, the fighting was just beginning. As the battle ensued, he recognized that his Marines on the rooftop of the building were exposed. He ordered them to seek cover in the building and headed to the roof himself. His actions prompted a hail of enemy fire on his position.
“The Marines, like Marines always do, just started performing in an incredible manner. We had a job to do and just had to make sure it got done,” said Ackerman.
According to his citation, Ackerman took heavy enemy fire on the rooftop but still “coolly employed an M240G machine gun to mark targets for supporting tanks, with devastating effects on the enemy.”
In all, Ackerman was able to simultaneously direct tank fire, coordinate four separate medical evacuations and continually attack with his platoon, all the while suffering from his own shrapnel wounds.
Ackerman said he was only doing what he saw others around him doing.
“I think we all go out there and know what our job is and what’s expected of you,” he said. “There is only one alternative; it is to do it or not do it. You have to do what needs to be done in a situation. That’s what all the Marines were doing. I feel this award doesn’t represent something for myself; it represents what I saw everyone doing out there.”
As of Jan. 9, according to statistics maintained by the Marine Corps, only 69 Marines had received the Silver Star since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began.