When 20-two-year-old Marine Sgt. Phillip McCulloch Jr. was rocked by an RPG during his third combat tour in Afghanistan, he was rushed to the hospital and given the option of going home.His unit, the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment from Camp Pendleton had been pinned down by insurgents in a lengthy and gruelling firefight within the Sangin Valley last spring. They lost 25 Marines, and suffered 200 casualties, the largest loss of any battalion in the war.
McCullouch refused the discharge, recuperated and was sent back to his unit where he continued his combat tour. He may have tried to put that day in the Sangin Valley behind him, but the Marine Corps did not, and Friday he was honored with the Silver Star, the third highest medal for valor in the nation.
McCulloch recounted the events at Sangin that day to Gretel Kovach at The San Diego Tribune.
He was leading his squad on a routine patrol when they began taking fire. “It was kind of moderate at first,” he said, “then it got heavy. It was from every direction.”
realising the only way out was to fight their way through Taliban forces, McCullouch told his patrol to dig in, then he got on the radio. He called in snipers, heavy machine guns, mortar attacks, and air support. U.S. planes swept into the valley and strafed the insurgents with missiles and Hellfire rockets.
Six hours later, when it was over, the Marine squad leader was down to a half magazine of ammunition and the bodies of the Taliban covered the valley floor. The motorcycles they’d rode like horses, were scattered among the dead.
One military source told me “You can drill tactics, technique, and procedure, but the finer art of tactics is a gift. And he’s got it.”
McCulloch’s superiors agree. Back when he first enlisted, his supervisors in the Corps called the McCulloch a “prodigy” because he kept peppering his bosses with questions, and demanded to learn everything he could.
It paid off, and his command put him in charge of combat patrols when he was a lowly private first class, an uncommon responsibility for a fresh Marine.
From The San Diego Tribune:
With his voice trembling, McCulloch struggled to explain the magnitude of their service. The engineers, “they stayed in front of the whole squad with their rifles slung behind their back, the first person between the enemy and us, sweeping with a mine detector looking for an IED in the ground. One step and this is what happens, they give the ultimate sacrifice.
“Then you have our corpsmen,” he continued. “They had to carry twice as much gear just for medical supplies for us. Then if somebody gets wounded, you can’t hold them back from running to the front or running to that individual. I’ve tried, and you can’t.”
McCullouch accepted the Silver Star from Brigadier Gen. Yoo, got a big hug from his father, and posed with his wife for The Associated Press.
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