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Staff Sgt. Shawn Shoulders, Sierra Battery?s guns platoon sergeant, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), receives a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal July 27 during an awards ceremony aboard the USS Whidbey Island.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Joshua Lujan

Shoulders bears heavy load in assisted departure

27 Jul 2006 | Cpl. Jeffrey A. Cosola

Staff Sgt. Shawn Shoulders, Sierra Battery’s guns platoon sergeant, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), was awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal July 27 during an awards ceremony aboard the USS Whidbey Island.

Shoulders, a Fairmont, W.Va., native, earned the award for his role in aiding American citizens in their authorized departure from war-torn Lebanon.  Although an individual award, Shoulders said that the personal recognition is a product of his Marines’ performance during the processing of more than 800 civilians who arrived aboard the ship on their way to safety.

“Everyone did more than their fair share,” explained Shoulders.  “If it was up to me, all of the Marines should have gotten one of these.”

According to Shoulders, the Whidbey Island was tapped to receive anywhere from 500 to 1,000 civilians, and once the Landing Craft Air Cushioned began arriving, it was a matter of processing luggage and moving people into living quarters -- then repeating the process 800 times.

“It was a matter of putting the pieces in place and then handing them over to Staff Sgt. Shoulders to make sure they ran efficiently,” said 1st. Lt. William Soucie, Sierra Battery executive officer. “He’s one of my cadre of enlisted advisors, and I can turn to him with no hesitation.”

Shoulders was presented the award by Navy Capt. Sinclair Harris, Amphibious Ready Squadron 4 commanding officer, who traveled to the Whidbey Island to address the Marines and Sailors that played a part in the departure operation.  He said that he appreciated their hard work and that the American people who left Lebanon appreciate their service. He concluded his remarks by calling this a “great time to be a part of the Navy and Marine Corps team.”

The Marines and Sailors of the 24th MEU, once known as the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, recently returned to Lebanon for the first time since their barracks were bombed Oct. 23, 1983, killing 241 service members. Returning with the same “Beirut Battalion” -- 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment – that suffered most of the casualties during the attack, the MEU has been aiding in the authorized departure since July 16.

The MEU is composed of its Command Element; Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (Reinforced); and MEU Service Support Group 24.