AL QA'IM, Iraq -- Twenty-eight years after Master Gunnery Sgt. Paul L. Atherton first joined the Marine Corps, the 48-year-old Bloomsburg, Pa., native received his 4th Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medal - his first in a combat zone with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment.
Atherton, a 1975 graduate of Central Columbia High School, received the award for his actions during Operation Matador in May.
Operation Matador was conducted by Marines from RCT-2, mainly those from 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, to root out the insurgency and eliminate their strongholds north of the Euphrates River in the Al Qa’im region.
Soldiers with an Army assault bridging company were the main effort in helping the Marines cross the river.
May 8, as Marines were waiting to cross the river, the soldiers were having difficulty finishing their mission due to heavy indirect fire from the town of Ubaydi near the side of the bridge.
Atherton, the 5th Civil Affairs, Detachment 4 chief and a combat engineer, went down to the site to help with the construction on each side of the river speeding up the process and lending an extra hand to his fellow service members.
“Their command was very appreciative of my help,” Atherton said.
Atherton received the medal in the area of operation where Matador took place, Al Qa’im, from the commanding officer of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, Lt. Col. Tim Mundy, which for Atherton was an honor in itself.
“I think the fact that it came from Lt. Col. Mundy, the battalion commander, that it felt like a piece of history and because I was receiving it from the battalion, I felt that it was important to receive it there [Camp Al Qa’im],” he explained.
Although this was Atherton’s 4th NAM, this one was a little different for him.
“This one came from a combat zone during an operation, other than that you can’t really separate them,” he said.
As Atherton’s deployment in Iraq comes to an end, he looks to the future and possibly another deployment.
“I hope to get another set of orders to go to Afghanistan after I return to the states,” he said.
Before deploying to Iraq, Atherton deployed to the Horn of Africa twice and now even after receiving four NAMs and nears the end of yet another deployment, he wants to deploy at least one more time before he retires.
“I know that a war is going on over there too, and I want to deploy at least one more time before I get out,” he explained.