CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq -- A Zachary, La., native Marine was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with combat distinguishing device for valor in a ceremony here May 21.
February 11 was a normal day of standing post at the platoon’s forward operating base for Lance Cpl. Blake A Soileau, 19, a rifleman with K Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6. He cautiously kept his eyes on the road while conversing with his fellow watch standers, Lance Cpl. Nick F. Lanteri, 21, from Dracut, Mass., and Lance Cpl. John E. Smirlis, 23, from Tarpon Springs, Fla.
As vehicles cruised slowly past his post he noticed a dump truck that had become a common sight in the area. Though the vehicle had never acted suspiciously before, he kept his eyes on it, nonetheless.
“We had seen the vehicle before,” said Soileau. “When you’re on a observation post for a week straight standing post, you start recognizing vehicles and recognizing people.”
The boredom was quickly shattered when a machine gun opened up on the post, spraying it with rounds. Disregarding his own safety he began engaging the machine gun across the road with his own M240G medium machine gun. Thinking the Marines were distracted, the driver of the dump truck made his move. He increased his speed and swerved off the main road, heading directly for the patrol base and Soileau.
Soileau swiftly adjusted fire and engaged the new threat speeding for his position and fellow Marines, despite the rounds cracking over his head.
“He engaged the most dangerous threat, which was the truck coming into the wire,” said Cpl. Donald S. Hickman, 20, from Bastrop, La. “It was a good decision on his part.”
Soileau didn’t flinch as the truck barreled in, pouring accurate machine gun fire into the vehicles cab.
“(The driver) turned right in and didn’t even hesitate, just as cool as he could be,” added Soileau. “We opened up on him and fired the whole time he was coming toward us. They told me that he was killed by the first burst, but the vehicle kept rolling. I figured he was just lying down in the seat trying to be sneaky, so I kept firing too.”
His fellow Marine on post described his reaction as an automatic reflex drilled into him by training.
“It was just instinct. You see that truck break the wire and you just do what you were trained to do,” said Lanteri, a 2004 graduate of Dracut High School.
The sound of gunfire quickly got the attention of the Marines who weren’t on post. They threw their gear on and stormed to the roof to help suppress the threat. Hickman, the squad leader, was the first to arrive.
“We heard the gunfire and we ran up to the roof. I was the first one up and I assessed the situation to see what was going on,” said Hickman, a 2004 graduate of Bastrop High School. “There was a dump truck outside maybe 30 feet from the post. I looked down and the guy was bent over in the truck, so I assumed he was dead.”
With the truck stopped from its suicidal mission, the Marines turned their attention to the machine gun fire. During the whole fight they had been sending out requests for support over the radio. A Mobile Assault Platoon (MAP) section from Weapons Company passing through the area was directed to move against the enemy positions. They stopped and began to cordon off the area.
“It was perfect timing for us, because I’m sure that’s what cut off the machine gun fire,” said Soileau. “I don’t think they planned on that convoy being there.”
With the immediate danger neutralized, a team of Marines was dispatched to check the vehicle. What they found was appalling. The dump truck had been turned into a massive rolling bomb containing hundreds of pounds of explosives, numerous artillery shells and several propane tanks. Because the vehicle was too volatile to move, it had to be blown in place. An explosive ordnance disposal team was dispatched to remove the hazard. Before the controlled detonation could take place, the Marines had to remove their gear from the house that served as their patrol base.
“It pretty much knocked the house down, so if that (suicide car bomb) had made it into the compound, I probably wouldn’t be here right now,” said Hickman.
Hickman went on to express his gratitude for Soileau’s quick reaction.
“There were ten Marines in that house that could have been killed,” he added. “Thanks to him there are ten Marines here today without a scratch on them.”
Soileau credits his quick reaction to the intensive training he underwent before this deployment.
It’s my first deployment, so I didn’t know if the day would come or when the day would come,” said Soileau. “They told us during the whole work up a thousand times that our training was going to kick in and as soon as it happens you’re going to know exactly what to do. That’s what happened, I was staring down the road and he pulled in and I thought ‘He’s not supposed to be here,’ so I racked the bolt back and went to work.”
After standing in front of his peers and being recognized for his valor and dedication, the soft spoken, humble Marine still insists that he was just in the right place at the right time.
“I hate to be the guy who says what everyone else does, but it’s just your job,” he added. “It’s what anyone else would have done.”