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Fallen N.J. Marine welcomed home

By Sgt. Randall A. Clinton | | January 22, 2010

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The remains of a local Marine killed in Afghanistan and selected to receive a Bronze Star Medal with combat distinguishing device was escorted past flag-waving crowds to Becker Funeral Home, Jan. 21.

Sgt. Christopher R. Hrbek, 25, a field artillery cannoneer with 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, II Marine Expeditionary Force, died Jan. 14 while conducting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. 

A detail of Marines who served with Hrbek marched in the front of the procession.

Sgt. Ryan Harshman, 3/10, section leader, enlisted into the Marine Corps a few months after Hrbek. They were assigned to the same unit and quickly became close friends as they advanced from the newest Marines in the unit to experienced leaders with multiple deployments.

He described Hrbek as a phenomenal leader. "When he walked into a room everyone knew who he was, he just had this presence. He never ran out of fuel," said the Smithsburg, Md., native. 

A month before he died, Hrbek displayed those very qualities. On Dec. 23, 2009, Hrbek's patrol was attacked from multiple directions. During the firefight, an improvised explosive device erupted underneath Sergeant Major Raymond Mackey, 3/10, sergeant major. The blast instantly amputated both of Mackey's legs. Without hesitation, Hrbek rushed through enemy fire and applied multiple tourniquets and pressure dressings, thereby saving Mackey's life. 

A Bronze Star Medal with a combat distinguishing device was approved for Hrbek and is scheduled to be presented at his funeral Jan. 23. In recounting the details of the day's events, the award states, "by his zealous initiative, courageous actions, and exceptional dedication to duty, Sergeant Hrbek reflected great credit upon himself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and Untied States Naval Service."

Harshman and the other Marines drove first to Dover and then here to Hrbek's hometown from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. His emotions cracked through any attempt to portray a stoic Marine while in uniform. He paused for a moment while talking about his friend and pointed to another measure of the Marine he affectionately called his "little buddy." The hundreds of townspeople who had lined the streets during the procession now gathered at the funeral home, and beyond them American Flags hung from houses, street lights and parking meters.  "This shows absolutely who he was," he said. 

Sean Toale, a childhood friend of Hrbek, said "he always stood for something." 

There will be a public wake Jan. 22 at Zion Lutheran Church, here, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. He will be interned at George Washington Memorial Park, Paramus, N.J., Jan. 23.

According to II Marine Expeditionary Unit’s press release, Hrbek was on his 4th deployment since joining the Marine Corps in 2003. He deployed with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit to Central Command theater of operations in 2005, then twice to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from February to September 2007 and again from August 2008 to March 2009.

He deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in November 2009.

His personal decorations include two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, the Combat Action Ribbon and Good Conduct Medal.

*For questions about this article, email NYCMarines@usmc.mil


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