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54 HOURS OF VALOR

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First Lt. Rebecca M. Turpin received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device at Combat Logistics Battalion 3’s Warriors’ Field on 4 September for her actions under enemy fire during the battalion’s last deployment to Afghanistan, October 2008 to May 2009.

 

The First Hour (Daily Dose)

First Lt. Rebecca M. Turpin woke up to her alarm at 0130 after a couple hours of restless sleep. She was in the third month of her first deployment, and today she would be leading her second convoy as a platoon commander for Motor Transportation Company, CLB-3. She was nervous but confident. For Turpin, it was just another day in theatre, and she looked forward to getting her daily dose of motivation – working with her Marines.

 

The Second Hour (80 Miles to Go)

Combat Logistics Patrol 1 departed Forward Operating Base Bastion in southern Helmand Province, Afghanistan, at 0400 for what they thought would be a standard day-long cross-country movement to FOB Musa Qalah, more than 80 miles away. Regularly providing the six functions of logistics to five forward operating bases and three combat outposts, the battalion that day was to provide logistical support, including supplies and maintenance, to Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, as well as supplies for United Kingdom troops.

 

“If our combat logistics patrols did not deliver necessary supplies and services, capabilities would be severely reduced,” Turpin said. “Our missions had to be successful, especially because of the limited supplies and equipment in the [area of operation] at the time. Every Marine in the patrol knew this and they always put mission accomplishment first.”

 

The Seventh Hour (Off-Roading)

The 18-vehicle convoy, consisting of Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacements (MTVRs) and mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles headed north toward Wadi after exiting Route 1 (the only paved road in Afghanistan), to begin their rocky off-road journey through sand dunes, dry river beds and gravel.

 

“All of the FOBs are located off Route 1, so you have to drive through the desert to reach them on open terrain,” Turpin said. “The MTVRs and MRAPs make about a foot-wide wheel track, so it’s very obvious when a patrol has been through terrain. Therefore, each time we went on a mission we would take a different off-road route; if they see tracks, [the enemy will] plant IEDs [improvised explosive devices] nearby.”

 

Shortly after leaving the paved road, vehicle nine struck an IED, destroying the driver-side wheel.

 

“Turpin immediately provided direction on immediate actions to cordon the site, sweep for secondary devices, and have the explosive ordnance disposal team assess the site,” wrote Lt. Col. Michael Jernigan, commanding officer, CLB-3, in his award recommendation. “EOD found two additional IEDs, and she directed them to exploit the IEDs for intelligence and then destroy them in place in order to continue with the patrol.”

 

The only thing Turpin remembers going through her mind was that she didn’t want any of her Marines getting hurt. As the convoy pushed on, Turpin continued to think ahead, planning for the patrol’s next move.

 

The 15th Hour (Deja Vu)

Eight hours later, the patrol was still pushing forward, with the rich darkness of the night limiting visibility, even with night vision goggles.

 

“I’ve never used NVGs more than on that patrol,” Turpin said. “I was constantly looking around asking myself – are there people moving in that village; are we coming up on a tough crossing point?”

 

Suddenly, another IED exploded, hitting vehicle one of the convoy. It destroyed the attached mine roller, littering the surrounding area with metal fragments and making it impossible to sweep for secondary IEDs.

 

“Lt. Turpin directed the sweeping to the rear of the vehicle and had it reverse in its own tracks in order to remove the vehicle out of the danger area and not endanger more Marines,” Jernigan wrote.

 

Turpin then coordinated with higher headquarters to have a new mine roller delivered via a United Kingdom helicopter support team. While Turpin ordered the immediate sweeping and clearing of a hasty helicopter landing zone, 2nd Platoon, Motor Transportation Company, CLB-3 worked together at Bastion to assemble the mine roller for external lift to the convoy.

 

“The British forces were wonderful,” Turpin said. “If I could work with them again, I’d love to.”

 

The 24th Hour (No Sleep ‘Til Musa Qalah)

After the convoy received and installed the new mine roller, Turpin continued leading the mission forward, pressing on without sleep. At this point, Turpin realized that leading the mission was much like the obstacle course – she knew she’d simply have to take one event on at a time.

 

The 35th Hour (That Sinking Feeling)

Around the halfway point of the convoy’s trek, the patrol began making its way through a medium-size village with men farming their land and children playing soccer in the streets. Shortly after the patrol entered the village, the routine movement was interrupted.

 

“The men in the village began rushing the women and children into the houses and began gathering; I had a sinking feeling when I saw this,” Turpin said. “I heard my gunner yell, ‘RPG!’ and heard the RPG rocket strike our refueler’s engine block, disabling the vehicle.”

 

The hit initiated a complex attack with small arms fire and the launch of several more RPG rockets from multiple, covered firing positions in the village.

 

An RPG rocket struck the engine of Vehicle 15—the refuel MTVR, resulting in a mobility kill.

 

“It’s like a huge crack that you can feel in your chest,” Turpin said of the RPG rockets.

 

Turpin immediately ordered return fire and directed the lead vehicles to pull back out of the kill zone, form a security perimeter around the downed vehicle and rig it for tow.

 

As two of the vehicles became disabled, Turpin directed the patrol to provide cover for the Marines rigging and towing one vehicle and repairing the air compressor on the other. Only later would Turpin find out the Marines took a smashed soda can to cover the bullet hole in the compressor to create a seal, returning air to the brake lines, miraculously fixing the vehicle.

 

As the convoy returned fire and suppressed the enemy, Turpin texted to the combat operations center at Bastion, “Troops in contact!”

 

“[Then] our Joint Tactical Air Controller coordinated our air support with Cobra helicopters and fixed-wing air support that were redirected to our position,” Turpin said. “Our machine gunners engaged the positively identified fighting positions, and once all vehicles were able to roll, we moved out of the valley.”

 

The Cobras escorted the two wreckers through the valley as they expertly traversed the terrain while pulling the disabled MTVRs.

 

The 37th Hour (Out of the Valley)

After the Marines completed repairs and tow rigging, Turpin moved to the lead vehicle for better visibility of the terrain and controlled the direction of movement in order to break contact. She directed the convoy to pull back from the village; however, the two wreckers, each pulling a downed MTVR, could not traverse the terrain. Turpin then utilized the Cobras to scout better egress routes for the wreckers. Once a route was found, she ordered the wreckers

and two security vehicles to take the new course, splitting her platoon.

 

Once half the patrol was out of the valley, suddenly the rear of the convoy was attacked with four RPG rockets and machine gun fire.

 

“I was just thinking, ‘We have got to get these Marines out of this valley,’” Turpin said. “The more that happened, the initial shock begins to wear off and you get into the zone of dealing with the problem at hand.”

 

Turpin directed four separate ‘gun runs’ from the Cobras, which released four salvos of 2.75-inch high explosive rockets and 200 20mm rounds of ammunition, eliminating the enemy threat located within nearby trench lines and an irrigation tunnel complex. She broke contact and again continued the CLP-1’s mission.

 

The 54th Hour (Two and a Half Days Later)

Since February 2003, a total of 12 female Marines have received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a Combat “V.” Turpin is the seventh female company grade officer to be awarded this medal and device.