AR RAMADI, Iraq -- It is unadulterated courage in the face of horrifying danger and risk. It is being able to perform under fire while knowing you are probably going to lose a leg. It is taking care of your Marines when everything is on the line. It is duty, courage and love all together. It is what Nathaniel Leoncio showed the Marines of Company L the morning of Oct. 4.
The mission was to patrol the southern part of Ar Ramadi in support of Operation Bowie, capturing or destroying insurgents and their weapons. However, when the convoy made its way to the dirt roads and unincorporated areas that make up the southern part of town, everything changed.
“As soon as we got on the dirt roads, four (Improvised Explosive Devices) went off about two feet from our vehicles,” said Cpl. Jason Luedke, a Humvee driver with Company L. “Our Humvee ended up in a three-foot crater. I started pulling Marines out of my vehicle and was trying to find cover when I saw that the Humvee in front of us had been hit and was flipped upside down.”
Another Marine in the second vehicle, Cpl. Neil Frustaglio, a vehicle commander for Company L, was one of the first people to rush up to the flipped vehicle.
“After the blast, I looked forward and actually saw the Humvee landing,” he said. “I was the first person there, and I heard Leo screaming for help.”
Leo is Seaman Leoncio, a hospitalman assigned to Company L.
“When I came around to his side, I saw that he was caught under the Humvee, that his leg was stuck,” said Frustaglio. “I grabbed the edge of the Humvee and lifted it up. I was yelling at him to pull himself out. He struggled to pull himself out from under the Humvee with only his arms. When he got out, that ‘s when I saw his leg.”
Leoncio had suffered an amputated right leg below the knee, a shattered right femur and serious internal bleeding. However, before he allowed himself to be medically evacuated from the scene, Leoncio began directing the other Marines at the scene on how to perform aid on himself and the other injured Marines on site, including the fourth Platoon commander, who suffered serious shrapnel wounds and required immediate surgical evacuation.
“When I got to Hospitalman Leoncio, he immediately began telling me how to care for him,” said Cpl. Kurtis Bellmont, an infantryman in Company L. “Before he was even stable, he began asking about the other occupants of the vehicle and trying to assess their injuries. Before he would let us move him to the medevac vehicle, we had to tell him that all of the casualties were receiving medical attention.”
The IED completely destroyed the Humvee and resulted in one death, three urgent surgical casualties and one routine casualty. Despite the chaos surrounding the attack, Leoncio kept his calm and bearing and never relented in his duty to his Marines.
“There are no words for what he did,” said Frustaglio. “The explosion was catastrophic, it blew the door off the Humvee and threw it 30-plus meters. Those doors weigh more then 300 pounds. When I got to (Leoncio) he was in pain, but he began telling me what to do. He was so calm, he was injured but he was telling me how and where to put the tourniquet on his leg.”
One of the passengers in the vehicle, 1st Lt. Bradley Watson, helped move Leoncio to the medevac vehicle and provided buddy aid to him while they were transported to Camp Ramadi for surgical evacuation.
“I helped pull Hospitalman Leoncio into the medevac Humvee and personally saw him wince in pain as he rolled over, opened his medical kit and treated (the fourth Platoon commander’s) shrapnel wound,” said Watson. “When he saw that the bleeding had stopped, he gave Cpl. Bellmont and me instructions on how to best care for him. He was calm, alert and responsive the entire way to Ramadi Medical. The only thing he asked for was that someone hold his hand to keep him awake and give him sips of water.”
Although his courage and dedication were highlighted during the horrible events of Oct. 4, the Marines of Company L were not surprised at “Doc Leo’s” courage under fire and performance through pain.
“Doc Leo was a real good guy, he was always helping Marines with anything he could,” said Luedke. “He was, overall, the nicest guy I’ve met in the military. He wanted to be here, in Iraq. He said before that the only reason he joined the Navy was to be a corpsman and serve with Marines in Iraq.”
Leonicio was transported back to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland where he is currently recovering from his wounds.