MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
It was just another day in Iraq for Capt. John Roussos and the men of Company B, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division.
While ensuring that insurgents were not using the wadi systems (dry river beds) as an avenue of approach into Al Anbar Province, Roussos and his men went out to an area about 60 miles from the Saudi Arabian border.
“We were assigned a big mission to do reconnaissance and gather information in an area where there were no coalition forces,” said Roussos, former platoon commander for Bravo 3.
Roussos and his men set out to recon the area on March 7, 2008, during Operation Ghadaf. They could not have known that their actions later that day would earn Roussos the Silver Star Medal, which he would receive at a ceremony Friday, Sept. 12 at Ellis Field, Courthouse Bay, here.
“(Roussos) knowingly and willingly exposed himself to enemy fire with the intent of drawing fire away from his machine gunner and driver, and risked his life for his men,” said Maj. Fred Courtney, former Bravo Company commander and current executive officer for 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion.
Roussos, a Princeton, N.J., native, and a graduate of Norwich University, a military academy in Northfield, Vt., said he did what any officer would have done in his situation, and credits his men for saving his life.
“It was a miracle that none of us got hurt,” said Roussos. “We wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my guys.”
Roussos matter-of-factly recalled the actions of that day.
“We set up a company patrol base in the middle of the desert for Bravo 2, Bravo 3 and the company headquarters element,” said Roussos “Bravo 1 was conducting Aero Scout Missions, in the same area.”
From the air, Bravo 1 spotted a suspicious vehicle, a white pick-up truck, moving west across the desert. Despite the warnings and attempts to stop the vehicle, the truck took off, zig-zagging across the desert. Bravo 3, the lead element for the company, was immediately tasked with chasing the vehicle. Roussos, along with then Cpl. Jonathan Roig, the driver, and Sgt. Joshua Garrett, the gunner, was in the lead vehicle, an M-148 up-armored humvee. After chasing the truck for several kilometers across rough terrain, the Marines got within 200 meters of the pick-up, and the suspicious vehicle finally came to a halt.
“I was turned at an angle, talking to my interpreter, and just as I faced the front, we saw one of the guys from the white truck raise his hands into the air,” said Roussos. “We thought he was surrendering.”
The man’s intentions were quite the opposite. Instead of surrendering, he removed a tarp from the back of the truck, revealing an insurgent lying in the prone position, holding a soviet-made medium machine gun, containing approximately 400 rounds of armor-piercing ammunition pointed straight at the humvee. Seconds later, rounds were pouring down upon the Marines. The Marines immediately returned fire. Soon after, the white pick-up truck burst into flames.
“At this point, the (humvee) was creeping forward. My machine gunner went dry, and my communications supervisor couldn’t get out,” said Roussos.
This difficult situation, however, did not discourage the men of Company B from fighting. Roussos got out of the humvee, rushed approximately 20 feet in front of the damaged vehicle, and started shooting at the insurgents, performing speed reloads while closing with the enemy. This allowed his gunner to reload his weapon and get back in the fight.
“Sgt. Roig, my driver, remained composed and continued pushing toward the enemy,” said Roussos. “Once I got out, he tried to keep the truck going to cover me.” For his heroic actions that day, Roig later received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with the combat distinguishing device.
“Sgt. Garrett, my gunner, was composed and calm the whole time,” continued Roussos. “Rounds were impacting inside the turret and ricocheting around him. The turret was annihilated, but by the grace of God, he didn’t get hit. He remembered his training, reloaded his weapon, made sure his rounds were on target, and to not hit me—that is a testament to the training we have done.” Garrett later received the Bronze Star Medal with the combat distinguishing device for his actions that day.
When the dust cleared, these Recon Marines had killed five enemy insurgents, as well as recovered an RPG launcher, hand grenades, several magazines, sniper rifles, and ammunition. Although significant, Roussos emphasized this was just step one of the entire mission.
“This was only the first day of Operation Ghadaf,” said Roussos. “After that, we were really aggressive with the area. We had approximately 15 days to cover roughly 3,000 miles.”
Courtney said Roussos’ quick, decisive actions exemplified the combat mindset training Recon Marines demand.
“(Roussos) exemplifies what you think a Marine should be,” said Courtney. “He’s charismatic, extremely knowledgeable and dedicated to the Marines and his job. He has fierce determination when it comes to mission accomplishment, and won’t let anything stand in his way.”
In a time where decisiveness or hesitation meant the difference between life and death, Roussos chose the former. He was consequently awarded the Silver Star Medal, and in the words of his citation, “reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”