News: EOD Marines awarded for valor
Story by Lance Cpl. Jerrick J. Griffin
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – After recently returning from a deployment to Afghanistan, five Marines with 1st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, 7th Engineer Support Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 1, 1st Marine Logistics Group, received awards for valor here, May, 18. Gunnery Sgt. Benjamin Lepping, Gunnery Sgt. Travis Bouten and Staff Sgt. Matthew Jackson were awarded Bronze Star Medals with combat distinguishing device.
According to the citation, on Aug. 31, 2010, Lepping, serving as the explosive ordnance assistant team leader with 1st EOD Co., 1st MLG (Forward), encountered a trip-wire improvised explosive device. With complete disregard for his own safety, Lepping disarmed the device using hands-on procedures under the cover of darkness.
“I had to do what I had to do,” said Lepping, EOD team leader, 1st EOD Co., 7th ESB, CLR-1, 1st MLG, 30, from Louisville, Ky. “Even if it meant putting my life in danger to save the other Marines.”
Bouten, 28, from Spokane, Wash., who at the time was a staff sergeant serving with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 2, 1st Marine Division (Forward), as an EOD team leader, was providing EOD support, July 17, 2010, to a company of engineers who were building a road in a heavily-vegetated area. While attempting to resupply the engineers, a vehicle struck a roadside bomb less than 50 meters away from him. He began sweeping for secondary explosives around the downed vehicle when an IED detonated less than 30 meters from his position, also injuring a Marine. He and his sweep team began searching for additional IEDs and quickly spotted a second pull string aimed at a squad of Marines.
Without regard for his own safety, he dropped an explosive charge to detonate the IED before the enemy could initiate it. Within minutes, he spotted a third pull string IED aimed at his sweep team. The string to this explosive was actively being pulled when Bouten quickly grabbed and cut the string with his knife.
“I just reacted to the situation how any of us would,” said Bouten, EOD team leader, 1st EOD Co., 7th ESB, CLR-1, 1st MLG. “With lives in danger, we had to make sure we found and disarmed the IEDs before anyone else was injured.”
The last Bronze Star recipient, Staff Sgt. Matthew Jackson, 31, from Calabasas, Calif., who at the time was a sergeant with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, RCT-7, 1st MarDiv (FWD), as an EOD team leader, received the award for displaying tremendous technical proficiency, mental agility and physical determination in facilitating the battalion’s ability to combat the diverse enemy IED network and challenging counterinsurgency environment. As the battalion’s lead EOD technician, he constantly led clearing efforts from the front, traveling from one position to another and systematically neutralized more than 100 IEDs, production facilities and weapons caches.
“He was the first sergeant I ever put as a team leader,” said Maj. James Shelstad, company commander, 1st EOD Co., 7th ESB, CLR-1, 1st MLG. “With his tremendous effort, he showed that he can hold that billet and perform well.”
Because of Jackson’s work ethic he was placed as a team leader while he was deployed to Afghanistan.
“The [commanding officer] trusted me as a team leader, so I went out and did my job well to show I was capable of the position,” said Jackson, EOD team leader, 1st EOD Co., 7th ESB, CLR-1, 1st MLG.
The two Purple Heart Medal recipients were Staff Sgt. Mario Maldonado, EOD technician, 1st EOD Co., 7th ESB, CLR-1, 1st MLG, 28, from Chandler, Ariz., and Sgt. Robert Conlon, EOD technician, 1st EOD Co., 7th ESB, CLR-1, 1st MLG, 30, from Rockaway, N.J. The two Purple Heart Medals were awarded to the EOD technicians for wounds received in Afghanistan.
Maldonado was injured by an IED blast, Feb. 5, 2011, and Conlon suffered a gunshot wound to the arm Dec. 6, 2010. Each Marine made a full recovery and finished their tour.
“Staff Sgt. Maldonado got hit and came back; he says he’s about 99 percent right now, and he will be coming back out with us [on the next deployment]. Sgt. Conlon is amazing, he got shot through the arm, rehabbed and went back out with recon on the rest of the deployment,” said Shelstad, 43, from Canby, Ore. “It just goes to show you how dedicated these Marines are.”