A Bronze Star Marine rises after tragic battles

21 Jun 2006 | Lance Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes

Well before graduating from Anacortes High School, San Diego, in 2001, Cpl. Christopher R. Harman, a TOW-gunner with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, made up his mind about enlisting in the Marine Corps.

He wasn’t interested in going to college. His grandfather, Dutch Probst, a former Marine who fought in the Korean War, guided his thoughts on how he could set up a good foundation for his future. Nonetheless, joining the Corps was mostly his own idea, said Harman.

With little vacation from high school, Harman entered recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego in late June 2001. After finishing School of Infantry, Camp Pendleton, Calif., and all other entry-level training, he was assigned to 3/7.

“My first impression [of the fleet and its Marines] was that they were really professional,” said Harman. “It was different from anything else I ever experienced including boot camp and SOI. It was just a band of tough guys that knew their [knowledge].”

Since he entered, Harman has been on two combat deployments to Iraq. He was there for the initial push toward Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom 1, and has recently, in March, returned from a deployment in Ar Ramadi, Iraq.

“Our first deployment to Iraq was very exciting,” said Harman. “It was a chance for us to finally put forth all that we’ve trained on.

“The amount of time we spent in Kuwait was very frustrating though,” continued Harman. “We were all anxious to do something, but we never knew what was going to happen and when. A lot of the guys started to feel really confused. When we finally got the word to cross the line of departure, everyone was ecstatic. I remember it being one of the most motivating times I ever had in the Marine Corps.”

After returning from their first combat deployment to Iraq, 3/7 spent a lot of time training for their second push back into Iraq, said Harman. However, he could not join his comrades due to a shoulder injury that left him behind with 3/7’s Remain Behind Element.

In September 2005, 3/7 embarked on their third combat deployment to Iraq. Harman deployed as a vehicle commander and dismounted squad leader with Combined Anti Armor Team Red, Weapons Company.

“Our last deployment was insane,” said Harman. “I already knew what to expect and we got to plenty of close engagements as soon as we got to Ramadi. It brought back a lot of memories. It was a different place and a different fight though.”

Less than a month into the deployment, Harman and CAAT Red were operating as part of the battalion’s Quick Reaction Force, and responded to a mass casualty call from an improvised explosive device in an intersection of a street in Ar Ramadi. The IED blast was the initial action of an ambush from enemy forces. Harman maneuvered his vehicle into the kill zone of the ambush in an effort to recover Marines and numerous Iraqi Security Force casualties. His actions helped recover the wounded Marines and Iraqi soldiers. Under fire, he established a casualty collection point where he directed Marines and corpsmen too.

“I really cannot remember exactly what happened, but I remember I had no time to think about anything,” said Harman. “Bringing my vehicle into machine gun fire is what had to be done. I didn’t want to be in that intersection any longer than anyone else.”

Lance Cpl. Carl J. Franklin, a rifleman with Weapons Company from Medford, Ore., was at the scene.

“We were just as scared for his life as we were for ours or as he was for his own,” said Franklin. “But he conducted himself very mature and professional under that situation.”
A month later, Harman and his unit of Marines responded to a similar call, only this one involved Harman as a casualty. Harman maneuvered his vehicle to recover two casualties that remained in an exposed intersection after an ambush.

“It was a very [horrible] feeling to see to Marines lying motionless in an intersection like that,” said Harman. “It was a feeling that I felt deep in the gut, and it was something that I hoped to never see again.”

Harman pulled his vehicle into the intersection and called the corpsman. He and the corpsman attempted to approach the two Marines who lied in the intersection. After his first attempt was held off by enemy fire, Harman called for more Marines. Just as his team was in position to retrieve the casualties, an IED detonated 15 meters away from him, knocking him to the ground.

“I remember out of nowhere I was laying down,” said Harman. “I quickly sat up, checked all my limbs, and I saw that I was good to go.”

Reacting quickly, Harman took advantage of the cloud of dust and debris that was provided by the IED blast and ran to retrieve one of the casualties that was still in the intersection. Nonetheless, the enemy continued to provide a heavy rain of gunfire on the intersection. Still, by his zealous initiative, he was able to drag the Marine, who had been killed, out of the intersection.

As soon as both KIAs were retrieved and all sensitive material and gear was retrieved and accounted for, the team left the scene of the incident.

“The deployment was a very rough, but very good experience,” said Harman. “Would I go back? Yeah, I’d go back.”

Harman and 3/7 returned to the Combat Center in March.

On June 21, Harman was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat “V” for his heroic actions in Ar Ramadi. The medal was pinned on by his battalion commander, Lt. Col. Roger B. Turner, behind 3/7’s command post.

“Cpl. Harman is very deserving of the award,” said Franklin. “He had a lot of nerve to keep going after getting hit by the IED blast. I was just hoping he was alright right after I saw the blast go off. Aside from those incidents, he’s a good Marine. He’s always alert and aware of his surroundings. He’s very respectful. This was my first combat deployment and it felt surreal to me, but [Harman] kept checking in with me, making sure reality was sinking in. He’s a really good Marine.”

Aside from surfing or dedicating his time to his family and girlfriend, Harman makes sure the mission is being carried by the Marines under him. Most of the time, tasks are always finished before Harman is aware of them, he said.

“Weapons Company in general is the best company I [have] ever served with,” said Harman. “I’m very proud and glad to have served with them over there.”
Headquarters Marine Corps