21 September 2017

SSgt Eric Smith (retired) receives Navy Cross for 6 April 2004 actions

I was honored to attend the 14 September 2017 presentation of the Navy Cross to USMC SSgt Eric Smith (retired) for heroic actions on 6 April 2004 in Ramadi, Iraq during his 2/4 Marine "Echo Company" service when a tragic ambush occurred in which 12 men of that unit were killed in action.

The citation reads:
"For extraordinary heroism on 6 April 2004 while serving as Squad Leader, Company E, 2d Battalion, 4th Marines, 1st Marine Division, 1 Marine Expeditionary Force in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. As part of the company's quick reaction force, Corporal Smith's platoon was ordered to reinforce a squad that was under attack. While enroute, two of the platoon's vehicles were ambushed, and the platoon commander was critically wounded. Corporal Smith assumed command of the platoon, and under heavy machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire, he led them 50 meters over open ground to covered positions. He then ran back across the fire swept field to evacuate his platoon commander and his weapons. Employing machine guns from the platoon's seven ton truck, Corporal Smith coordinated and led a counterattack against the insurgent force, and relieved the besieged squad. When some Bradley Fighting Vehicles arrived on the scene, Corporal Smith coordinated with them to evacuate all casualties, and orchestrated a planned withdrawal of all units to the command post. By his decisive actions, bold initiative, and complete dedication to duty, Corporal Smith reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service."

Smith explained to me following the medal presentation that on 6 April 2004 under the command of 2nd Lt. J.T. "Ski" Wroblewski, he and other 2/4 Marines formed a QRF (quick reaction force) to rescue their fellow Marines that had suffered multiple casualties and were pinned down in an ambush on Route Gypsum (a market place on the east side of Ramadi on the north side of Route Michigan), during which 12 men of 2/4 Marines were killed in action. Smith stated that their QRF was also ambushed while trying to rescue their fellow Marines. Lt. Wroblewski ran back to another 7 ton truck through heavy enemy fire to access a working radio to call in their position for backup. While calling in their position on the radio for additional support, Lt. Wroblewski suffered a mortal wound when he was shot by a sniper. Seeing his commanding officer fall after being shot, Smith carried Lt. Wroblewski to another 7 ton truck, ordering the driver to fight his way back to the combat outpost so that Lt. Wroblewski could be evacuated by a helicopter to the Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad near Landing Zone Washington. Immediately following this, Smith ran back again to retrieve Lt. Wroblewski's weapons. After this, Smith returned to the aid of his fellow Marines to ensure that they had combat support and evacuation for the wounded.

During my and John Wroblewski's weeks in Iraq in 2008 and during subsequent phone calls over these last 9 years, the Wroblewski family has communicated to me their eternal gratitude for the bravery, friendship, and support of Eric Smith, and I passed that on to Eric Smith via a private email message sent to me from John and Shawn Wroblewki that I read to Eric Smith following the ceremony.

As many of you know, it was my honor to escort Gold Star dad John Wroblewski to the Route Gypsum ambush site on 6 Mar 2008 and performed a memorial service for the Fallen Warriors of 2/4 Marines with Major General John Kelly. After a failed attempt to complete this memorial mission in January 2007 with journalist Martha Zoller, I promised John Wroblewski on the flight back to America that I would get him back to Ramadi one day. It was an honor to complete our mission to perform a memorial service for the Fallen Warriors of 2/4 Marines in 2008. This was the only successful visit by a Gold Star parent to a combat site in Iraq. This mission to remember the Fallen Warriors of 2/4 Marines was the most important moment in my life. I will never forget the names of these brave men and the sacrifices of their families.