Staff Sgt. Eric Smith, who retired from the United States Marine Corps before becoming a firefighter in Irving, Texas, had his Silver Star upgraded to a Navy Cross in a recent ceremony presided over by Maj. Gen. Paul Kennedy, head of Marine Corps Recruiting Command. The Navy Cross is the second highest valor award a war fighter can receive in the United States military, second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Smith, who was first presented the Silver Star in 2004 for his actions as a Corporal in Ramadi, Iraq, received the upgrade as a part of an awards review process initiated by the Department of Defense in 2011, intended to ensure service members received the appropriate recognition for their heroic efforts in the Global War on Terror that began in 2001.
Smith was serving as a squad leader in the Second Battalion, Fourth Marine Regiment, and part of his company’s quick reaction force in April of 2004. Corporal Smith and his platoon were ordered to move north and reinforce another squad that was under attack, as a part of a series of attacks launched by insurgents that day. As Smith and his company headed toward their fellow Marines however, they were ambushed, damaging two Humvees and critically wounding the platoon commander. Almost immediately, both the lieutenant and staff sergeant in command of the platoon were dead, and Smith found himself the senior Marine on the scene.
Smith, a corporal at the time, assumed command of the platoon and ordered the Marines to head for a fortified position, just beyond 50 meters of open ground. With his Marines safely behind cover, Smith then returned to the damaged convoy, braving machine gun fire and an onslaught of rocket-propelled grenades to evacuate the body of his platoon commander and his weapons.
Corporal Smith wasn’t done at that point, however. Smith went on to coordinate a counter attack against the closing insurgents, employing the platoon’s machine guns, as well as their functioning 7-ton MTVR truck. Smith would ultimately go on to lead his Marines to the isolated squad his platoon had originally been sent to support.
Once Smith and his Marines reached that isolated group, he coordinated with a nearby Army Bradley Fighting Vehicle Platoon to facilitate the evacuation of the wounded. He then developed a strategy to get the remaining U.S. forces out of the area safely.
Although Ramadi had been fairly quiet up until that point, that day would prove to be the beginning of a long and bloody deployment for the Marines of 2/4. Before they were able to return home, insurgent forces would claim the lives of 33 Marines and Corpsmen from Smith’s unit.
“It’s not written about,” said Maj. Gen. Paul J. Kennedy at the conclusion of the citation reading. “And they continued to fight for five and a half more months after the sixth of April and for those who couldn’t, they brought them home.
For his actions on that fateful day, Eric Smith was awarded a Silver Star in 2004, but following a recent Pentagon review, that award was upgraded to a Navy Cross, and presented to now Lt. Eric Smith, of the Irvine Fire Department by the Marine that served as his commanding officer while deployed to Iraq, Maj. Gen. Paul J. Kennedy.
I am honored and humbled to receive the upgraded award of the Navy Cross,” said Smith. “I understand that this places me in a category of Marines that I would have never imagined to be a part of. I firmly believe that I was an ordinary Marine placed in an extraordinary situation.”
Images courtesy of the Department of Defense