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thedrifter
12-28-05, 07:57 AM
Silver Star for a humble hero

By Beth Zimmerman
Times staff writer

For more than a year, leathernecks with Recruiting Station Richmond, Va., were unaware they were working for a hero - until their commanding officer received the nation's third-highest award for combat valor.

Maj. John "J.D." Harrill III was awarded the Silver Star at Recruiting Station Richmond on Dec. 17 for his actions in Iraq from February to September 2004. While serving as the operations officer of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, Harrill "calmly led the battalion command element and coordinated maneuver of the battalion's combat units, while personally neutralizing enemy automatic weapon and rocket-propelled grenade fire," his citation read.

According to 2/4's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Paul Kennedy, Harrill's actions on almost any given day of his seven-month deployment would have rated the medal. One such day came less than two months after the battalion's arrival.

According to Harrill's Silver Star summary of action report, the battalion command element spent the evening of March 31, 2004, with the Ramadi police chief until well after curfew planning a raid against insurgents.

As the command element traveled down the dark and deserted Main Supply Route, it received incoming small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. Without hesitation, Harrill ordered his vehicle to pull over, the report said.

Then, he led the dismounted element of four Marines into machine-gun fire toward the direction of the insurgents, engaging the enemy along with the element's sergeant major.

According to the report, "the two Marines proceeded, without a covering force, to pursue the fleeing enemy down several unlighted city blocks," when the sergeant major shot and killed the RPG gunner, who was aiming another shot at the Marines.

Five days later, Harrill directed the raid that netted three high-value targets. "Unbeknownst to him or the battalion, these same men were plotting a three-day counteroffensive to start within 48 hours," the report said. Within hours, three companies were engaged in at least eight separate locations across several miles. "We had platoons and squads pinned down everywhere," Harrill said. So he and the forward command post "fought our way into the city to one of the companies that was heaviest in contact," Harrill said.

Once Harrill linked up with the company, he continued directing fire throughout the city. While command vehicles were setting up security, he and his exposed vehicle started taking machine- gun fire. Harrill "calmly and deliberately paused from his duties on the radio and suppressed the gunner with his own weapon," the report said.

Soon after he took care of the machine gunner, insurgents tossed grenades toward the Marines from rooftops. Again, Harrill directed his small group of support Marines to provide suppressive fire. His three radio vehicles and one gun truck continued fighting for nearly seven hours without additional security, while Harrill directed the actions of six companies, including an Army engineer company, in defeating the enemy. According to the report, the Marines fought through the end of a second day, killing about 200 enemy fighters.

'He leads from the front'

"That's just how [Harrill] is: He leads from the front," said Staff Sgt. John Martinez, who provides personal security for the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon. Martinez worked for Harrill in 1994 when Harrill was a second lieutenant, and he served with him again in 1998 until 2000. "He is one of the best infantry officers I know," Martinez said.

In yet another battle, on April 10, Harrill jumped the forward command post into the midst of fighting during Operation Bug Hunt, a move designed "to let the Marines know we were with them in the fight," Harrill said.

Despite a bombardment of explosives, RPGs and small-arms fire, Harrill continued directing the maneuvering companies, "while never breaking positive control over the battle, and with a seemingly casual disregard toward the fighting raging around him," the report said.

Harrill's father, retired Lt. Col. John "Dave" Harrill II, wasn't surprised his son received the combat valor award. "He's always been one who lives somewhat on the edge," the father said. "I always said he had ice water in his veins."

However, his son was much more humble. "I felt confident in the team I was with and the training that I had, and it all seemed oddly natural," Harrill said. "When everything was chaotic, it was the environment I'd been trained to operate in, with guys I could trust," Harrill said.

The 35-year-old Huntsville, Ala., native adamantly pushed the credit for his medal to the Marines he led.

"I thought it was more for the job the Marines did, and their bravery," he said. "I was humbled at the way they performed, and their ruthless pursuit of the enemy." Of the Silver Star, Harrill said, "it was not something I saw as mine, but theirs."

For that reason, Harrill said, he made no mention of his award when he took command of the recruiting station in November 2004, though Kennedy had informed him of his nomination a month before.

"We didn't hear anything about this," said Gunnery Sgt. Curtis Eaton, staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Recruiting Sub Station Richmond South, following the Silver Star ceremony. "It doesn't surprise me, though. He's a good commander."

lucien2
12-28-05, 08:01 AM
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hrscowboy
12-28-05, 08:05 AM
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