Recon commander presented Bronze Star
January 10,2004

Marines have a code: They never leave their comrades behind on the battlefield - injured, wounded or dead.

Lt. Col. James E. Reilly III lives by that code.

On the night of March 26, 2003, at least 32 Marines with the Camp Lejeune-based Task Force Tarawa near An Nasiriyah, Iraq, were seriously injured, and fighting was so intense that helicopters could not land.

Reilly, 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company commander, repeatedly crossed 500 meters of open terrain, exposing himself to enemy fire to coordinate the safe return of these troops so they could get medical treatment.

"Two of my platoons volunteered for the medical evacuation site and we had to go through a previous ambush area," Reilly said humbly of the action that earned him the Bronze Star on Friday.

"If I was lying there," he said, "I would have wanted their attention."

Just four days earlier, his reconnaissance Marines took control of a Euphrates River bridge from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division and held that position, allowing the West Coast's 5th and 7th Marine Regiments to cross the river and head to Baghdad.

The next day, Reilly was part of a patrol along and behind enemy lines near An Nasiriyah when his unit "came under a withering hail of rocket propelled grenades, AK-47 and heavy machinegun fire," the citation read.

It was then that he first exposed himself to enemy fire, killing at least three foes and being the first to identify that Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen loyalists were using unconventional warfare and wearing black fatigues.

After alerting his command, Reilly obtained information that alerted 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment to danger and prevented them from driving through a well-designed and disguised Iraqi ambush, the citation said.

Soon they discovered that 1,000 to 2,000 enemy soldiers were massing at a railroad station south of the city and preparing to attack, but Reilly was credited with directing fire on their position to disrupt the attack.

Amid reports that Ba'ath party loyalists were shooting uncooperative civilians and using others as human shields, Reilly directed a raid on enemy strongholds, before obtaining information on prisoner of war Army Pvt. Jessica Lynch.

"The lawyer literally came to our position to provide us with information," said Task Force Tarawa commander Brig. Gen. Rich Natonski. "Jim (Reilly) coordinated elements of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, a quick reaction force from 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment and terminal guidance for the (rescue) helicopters. The whole mission was run from our position."

Since his return from Iraq last spring, Reilly has been selected for promotion to colonel and he has pinned his fair share of medals on his troops.

He was visibly uncomfortable with all the attention under the spotlight Friday as his wife, Amy, 4-year-old son, Ian and 7-month-old daughter looked on.

Before Reilly left for Iraq, he told his wife that he was Natonski's special advisor and tried to convince her that he would not be in harm's way.

"I didn't believe you," Amy told him in front of the gathered crowd.

"This is only a small testament, a small token of appreciation," Natonski said. "Jim receives a combat 'V' (device) for the heroism he exhibited under fire."

"I couldn't do one quarter of the things that I did without being surrounded by the Marines of 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company," Reilly said. "It's really on my Marines. I owe them everything."

Contact Eric Steinkopff at estein or 353-1171, Ext. 236.