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Bronze Star shines after valiant fight in Iraq

By Lance Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes | | December 16, 2005

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The Marines and Sailors of 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, gathered behind their command post Dec. 16 to recognize Cpl. Joseph R. Avila, a 21-year-old machine gunner with the Scout Sniper Platoon, Weapons Company, 1/7, as the commanding officer of the battalion awarded him the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V.”

Avila, a Zion, Ill., native, earned the award for heroic achievement in connection with combat operations involving conflicts with enemy forces while serving as scout sniper during Operation Iraqi Freedom II.

The battalion arrived in Iraq in late September of 2004. Roughly four months into the deployment, Avila’s unit was patrolling in downtown Husaybah, Iraq, Jan. 6, in vehicles. Before they could meet their objectives, the patrol came under intense enemy fire causing the lead vehicle to lose control and run into a building, becoming immobilized.

“It had been slightly raining that day, and the roads were somewhat slippery,” said Avila. “After we came under enemy fire, we made an effort to withdraw from the area. As the lead vehicle made a turn, they slid across the ‘T’ intersection and into a building, causing it to get stuck.”

Avila was traveling in a vehicle behind them and dismounted from it to assist his unit members. He provided security and suppressive fire as other Marines freed the humvee from the wall.

After freeing the vehicle, the convoy returned to their base, Camp Gannon, but the members in the patrol realized one of the vehicles had become separated from the group.

“During the crash, another vehicle had lost its communication ability,” said Avila. “No one knew whether they were hit during the incident or returned back to base, safely in a different route. We assumed the worse, so we went back in an effort to rescue them.”

Reentering the kill zone, the lead vehicle of the three-vehicle convoy, suffered a direct hit from a rocket-propelled grenade as they crossed an intersection, causing the vehicle to erupt into flames. Avila’s vehicle maneuvered past the intersection and damaged vehicle to a secure position down the street. Marines immediately dismounted their vehicles to engage the enemy.

“As Marines in their vehicles pushed past the burning humvee, I got out right next to it to secure and assist the wounded Marines,” said Avila.

Realizing that one of his team members was unwittingly staggering into enemy fire, he courageously ran across open terrain under enemy fire with complete disregard for his own safety to move the Marine to safety.

“Myself and other Marines in the hit vehicle consolidated and made our way to the other two secure vehicles,” continued Avila.

Sgt. Lance D. May, team leader with the platoon, was with the two intact humvees, fighting off enemy insurgents who were firing from the second floor and roofs of the surrounding buildings.

“I saw Cpl. Avila assisting the wounded and returning fire for the broken down humvee team,” said May, a Jonesboro, La., native. “He placed his life on the line when he physically directed the wounded Marines to our position.”

Tragically, the incident caused the Marine who was manning the machine gun on the turret of the lead vehicle to be killed instantly after receiving the RPG fire. After Avila and the other Marines made their way back to the secured humvees, Avila went back to the torn humvee to retrieve the killed Marine. He dragged him back across the kill zone and into safety. All of the casualties mounted the remaining two vehicles to return to Camp Gannon, as Avila and other Marines ran alongside the vehicles for security and fire support.

“It was the first time I had come under enemy fire that heavy,” said Avila. His personal question as to whether he could function effectively in combat had been answered, he said.

Ten days later, Avila found himself in a situation where his life and those of the Marines with him depended on his unhesitating actions.

While maintaining an observation post in Karabalah, Iraq, Jan. 16, the team’s position was compromised and came under intense enemy fire form a combination of heavy machine guns and small arms.

“We received heavy machine gun and mortar fire from enemy forces who were making their way closer to us,” said May. “The mission at this point was to take out their mortarmen.”

May directed Avila, who was serving as assistant team leader, to call in for a mortar strike against the enemy’s position.

With a large enemy force advancing on their position, again without regard for his own personal safety, he called in accurate indirect fire that neutralized the enemy’s advance.

“Due to his knowledge as an infantryman, there was no point where I had to think twice about tasking Cpl. Avila to call in for this strike,” said May. “Likewise, there was no point when Cpl. Avila hesitated or thought twice about sending out the message. A heavy barrage of 81-millimeter mortars took out the insurgents who were about 200 meters away from us. His tactical mindset and decisive action undoubtedly saved lives.”

“Cpl. Avila displayed the true meaning of courage under fire that day. He is a stellar NCO [noncommissioned officer] and it’s an honor to have a Marine like himself serve alongside me. The awards given to the Marines in the Sniper Platoon show what kind of professionalism we have in this platoon,” said May.

Avila’s total effectiveness, forceful leadership, and loyal devotion to duty reflected great credit upon himself, distinguishing his award for combat valor. He upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

The Marines and Sailors of 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, gathered behind their command post Dec. 16 to recognize Cpl. Joseph R. Avila, a 21-year-old machine gunner with the Scout Sniper Platoon, Weapons Company, 1/7, as the commanding officer of the battalion awarded him the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V.”

Avila, a Zion, Ill., native, earned the award for heroic achievement in connection with combat operations involving conflicts with enemy forces while serving as scout sniper during Operation Iraqi Freedom II.

The battalion arrived in Iraq in late September of 2004. Roughly four months into the deployment, Avila’s unit was patrolling in downtown Husaybah, Iraq, Jan. 6, in vehicles. Before they could meet their objectives, the patrol came under intense enemy fire causing the lead vehicle to lose control and run into a building, becoming immobilized.

“It had been slightly raining that day, and the roads were somewhat slippery,” said Avila. “After we came under enemy fire, we made an effort to withdraw from the area. As the lead vehicle made a turn, they slid across the ‘T’ intersection and into a building, causing it to get stuck.”

Avila was traveling in a vehicle behind them and dismounted from it to assist his unit members. He provided security and suppressive fire as other Marines freed the humvee from the wall.

After freeing the vehicle, the convoy returned to their base, Camp Gannon, but the members in the patrol realized one of the vehicles had become separated from the group.

“During the crash, another vehicle had lost its communication ability,” said Avila. “No one knew whether they were hit during the incident or returned back to base, safely in a different route. We assumed the worse, so we went back in an effort to rescue them.”

Reentering the kill zone, the lead vehicle of the three-vehicle convoy, suffered a direct hit from a rocket-propelled grenade as they crossed an intersection, causing the vehicle to erupt into flames. Avila’s vehicle maneuvered past the intersection and damaged vehicle to a secure position down the street. Marines immediately dismounted their vehicles to engage the enemy.

“As Marines in their vehicles pushed past the burning humvee, I got out right next to it to secure and assist the wounded Marines,” said Avila.

Realizing that one of his team members was unwittingly staggering into enemy fire, he courageously ran across open terrain under enemy fire with complete disregard for his own safety to move the Marine to safety.

“Myself and other Marines in the hit vehicle consolidated and made our way to the other two secure vehicles,” continued Avila.

Sgt. Lance D. May, team leader with the platoon, was with the two intact humvees, fighting off enemy insurgents who were firing from the second floor and roofs of the surrounding buildings.

“I saw Cpl. Avila assisting the wounded and returning fire for the broken down humvee team,” said May, a Jonesboro, La., native. “He placed his life on the line when he physically directed the wounded Marines to our position.”

Tragically, the incident caused the Marine who was manning the machine gun on the turret of the lead vehicle to be killed instantly after receiving the RPG fire. After Avila and the other Marines made their way back to the secured humvees, Avila went back to the torn humvee to retrieve the killed Marine. He dragged him back across the kill zone and into safety. All of the casualties mounted the remaining two vehicles to return to Camp Gannon, as Avila and other Marines ran alongside the vehicles for security and fire support.

“It was the first time I had come under enemy fire that heavy,” said Avila. His personal question as to whether he could function effectively in combat had been answered, he said.

Ten days later, Avila found himself in a situation where his life and those of the Marines with him depended on his unhesitating actions.

While maintaining an observation post in Karabalah, Iraq, Jan. 16, the team’s position was compromised and came under intense enemy fire form a combination of heavy machine guns and small arms.

“We received heavy machine gun and mortar fire from enemy forces who were making their way closer to us,” said May. “The mission at this point was to take out their mortarmen.”

May directed Avila, who was serving as assistant team leader, to call in for a mortar strike against the enemy’s position.

With a large enemy force advancing on their position, again without regard for his own personal safety, he called in accurate indirect fire that neutralized the enemy’s advance.

“Due to his knowledge as an infantryman, there was no point where I had to think twice about tasking Cpl. Avila to call in for this strike,” said May. “Likewise, there was no point when Cpl. Avila hesitated or thought twice about sending out the message. A heavy barrage of 81-millimeter mortars took out the insurgents who were about 200 meters away from us. His tactical mindset and decisive action undoubtedly saved lives.”

“Cpl. Avila displayed the true meaning of courage under fire that day. He is a stellar NCO [noncommissioned officer] and it’s an honor to have a Marine like himself serve alongside me. The awards given to the Marines in the Sniper Platoon show what kind of professionalism we have in this platoon,” said May.

Avila’s total effectiveness, forceful leadership, and loyal devotion to duty reflected great credit upon himself, distinguishing his award for combat valor. He upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
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