US Marine awarded Bronze star for saving comrades in Falluja

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  1. Los Angeles Times
    January 28, 2006 Saturday

    HEADLINE: Pendleton Marine Awarded for Valor in Iraq;

    Sergeant major receives the Bronze Star for saving comrades during fighting in Fallouja.

    BYLINE: Tony Perry, Times Staff Writer

    DATELINE: CAMP PENDLETON

    As an institution, the Marine Corps admires courage. And it particularly admires those in its ranks who help young Marines overcome their fear and find courage when it is most needed.

    On Friday, one of those Marines was honored.

    Sgt. Maj. William Skiles, 44, was awarded the Bronze Star with a "V" for valor for his leadership with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment, 1st Marine Division, during the bloody fight in Fallouja in April 2004.

    During one particularly violent firefight, in which insurgents closed to within 20 yards of the Marines and both sides hurled grenades, Skiles' bravery "strengthened the resolve" of the Marines even though they were outnumbered and under attack from three sides.

    For Echo Company -- one of the lead units in the first U.S. assault on the insurgent stronghold -- Skiles, a former drill instructor and scout-sniper instructor, was a father figure, role model and occasional disciplinarian.

    "There was not a man in Company E who ever had a doubt that Skiles would risk all to help them in their time of need," said Maj. Brandon McGowan, the battalion's executive officer.

    On the morning of April 26, 2004, Marines from Echo Company were attacked by insurgents firing hundreds of rocket-propelled grenades and thousands of rounds from AK-47s.

    Skiles, who was with other Marines several hundred yards away, found a Humvee and drove toward the battle, firing his M-16 out of the window.

    When he arrived, Skiles unloaded additional ammunition and put wounded Marines in the Humvee. As he drove the wounded to an aid station, he drew fire from insurgents. One Marine later died en route to a hospital, but the others survived.

    Reinforced with additional ammunition and emboldened, the Marines repulsed the insurgent attack. That night Skiles e-mailed a friend back home:

    "Never have I had so much blood around me. But you know what, payback is just around the corner and I will not falter. I will get these boys ready to rid this town of this [insurgent] cancer."

    At the time of the battle, Skiles, a 26-year veteran of the corps, was Echo Company's first sergeant, the senior enlisted man. Since then, he's been promoted to sergeant major and assigned to a helicopter squadron.

    "We can all learn a great deal from our sergeant major," Lt. Col. Charles Johnson, the squadron commander, said during a brief awards ceremony Friday.

    Skiles said that, during the firefight, the company commander, who was in the middle of the fight and had been wounded, told him by radio that it was too dangerous to take the vehicle into the fighting area.

    "This is the first time I've gotten a medal for disobeying an order," Skiles joked.

    When he heard that wounded Marines needed to be evacuated, there was no doubt about what he needed to do. "The bottom line is that there is something far greater than the fear of dying," he said. "It's the fear of letting other Marines down."

    GRAPHIC: PHOTO: MARINE'S MARINE: Sgt. Maj. William Skiles said he risked his own life at Fallouja out of fear of letting other Marines down. PHOTOGRAPHER: Hayne Palmour North County Times PHOTO: (OC)LEADER: Sgt. Maj. William Skiles evacuated wounded Marines during fighting in Fallouja in 2004. PHOTOGRAPHER: Lance Cpl. Lanessa Arthur

    LOAD-DATE: January 28, 2006