IRBIL, Iraq —
In a quiet, low-key ceremony yesterday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff awarded Purple Heart Medals to four Marines wounded during the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant attack on Fire Base Bell in March.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford and a small party visited the 200-man unit during a trip here to consult with Kurdish and Iraqi leaders.
The Purple Heart Medal recognizes those wounded or killed on active duty. Dunford awarded the service members at the gun where they were wounded and their gun chief -- Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin of Temecula, California, -- was killed. The unit had deployed to the base near Makhmur a short time before.
The men are part of Echo Battery of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
“In all the years, I have not awarded anybody a Purple Heart on the ground where they received the Purple Heart,” Dunford said during an interview with reporters traveling with him.
Talking to Marines
The base is isolated and there is still some danger so there wasn’t a large ceremony to recognize the Marines. Instead, the chairman walked to each gun position and spoke with the crews.
“I just talked to them about what they were doing, what their mission was, and frankly just thanked them,” the chairman said.
Dunford spoke to the sergeant who had to step up when Cardin was killed.
“When I spoke about Staff Sergeant Cardin his eyes were welling up,” the chairman said. “I told him, ‘I really appreciate you taking care of these guys; they are counting on you and I know Staff Sergeant Cardin is kind of looking down. He would be doing what you are doing, which is merely tightening his chin strap and getting on with it, and I appreciate you doing that.’”
The young sergeant told the chairman there is nothing else he would rather be doing and promised to take care of his Marines.
“I told the guys I spend a lot of time doing what I have to do, but sometimes it’s nice to do what I like to do,” the chairman said.
Dunford said he did not take press members traveling with him to the site, because he “didn’t want the Marines there to think I was going out to see them just for a photo op.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)