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thedrifter
01-16-09, 10:42 AM
CAMP SCHWAB, Okinawa (January 16, 2009) -- There are few awards earned by United States service members that are more prestigious and carry more solemn honor than the Silver Star. This honor was bestowed upon Gunnery Sgt. Robert Blanton, the platoon sergeant of 1st Platoon, Company A, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, by Lt. Gen. Richard Zilmer, the commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Unit, Jan. 8, during a ceremony on Camp Schwab.

The events that led to the award occurred Aug. 10 when Blanton's platoon was assaulted by 13 insurgents in Al Jazeera Desert, Iraq.

"Things got heated pretty quickly," said Capt. Luke Lazzo, the platoon commander for 1st platoon. "Blanton's element was on the scene within a couple minutes of the start of the attack, and they immediately became as heavily engaged as everyone else."

Blanton was looking for ways to gain an advantage over the insurgents, Lazzo said.

"Getting his vehicle to ram the building to create another breach point was one way he did it," he said.

After ramming the outer wall of the building, Blanton and Lazzo each led a team into the building to recover a wounded Marine inside, according to Blanton's Silver Star citation.

The Marine was Sgt. Michael Ferschke, a team leader with Co. A, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, who entered the house earlier to engage the armed insurgents. There were 10 insurgents in the building who immediately opened fire.

Ferschke moved to the corner of the room, as he was trained, to draw fire on himself. His actions allowed the rest of his team to enter the room and take down the insurgents, Blanton said.

Ferschke gave his life in the engagement, but his actions spared the lives of his team, Blanton said.

"He sacrificed his life and did something way more heroic than I did. I just capitalized on an opportunity."

Lazzo, who was awarded a Bronze Star for his actions in the same engagement, pulled Ferschke from the building.

With Ferschke out of the building, Blanton coordinated air support to take out the insurgent stronghold with guided munitions ending the engagement, according to the citation.

Even after the engagement, there was still work to be done. Blanton led the team that conducted the battle damage assessment in the area of the airstrikes, said Lazzo.

The platoon occupied the area for two more days, giving the Marines time to gather their thoughts and memories of the encounter.

"I remember trying to put together a sequence of events; to remember everything that happened," Blanton said, referring to his sleepless nights on radio watch after the firefight.

The memories of the incident are like a photo album, he said. Sitting down with his Marines after the engagement was like flipping through those photos.

Blanton's album contained pictures from different points in the engagement. When he mentally looked at two photos from the battle, he remembered the specific events perfectly, but what happened in between those memories was blank, he said.

Each member of the group remembered a different aspect of the battle, and comparing their memories let them better understand what happened.

Blanton's own recollection of the engagement centers on the other members of his team: the sergeant setting down suppressive fire from the turret and the corporal laying into the insurgents with a squad automatic weapon.

"Anyone of these guys," Blanton said while gesturing to the Marines of 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion Headquarters, "is capable of doing the exact same thing I did. It's textbook: you shoot, move, communicate."