The first thing Staff Sgt. Matthew E. Faircloth did once he regained consciousness after being shot in the head in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2011 was look at his family picture in the back of his Kevlar helmet. Never mind the blood gushing from the back of his head, he just wanted to make sure the one thing that kept him strong through his deployment was protected – a picture of his wife and three children.
Faircloth, a section leader with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, was awarded a Bronze Star with combat distinguishing device Aug. 23 during the 2nd Marine Division change of command ceremony.
Faircloth, a Hedgesville, W. Va., native, earned the award for his actions in combat on February 16, 2011 while leading his section in support of Operation Steel Curtain I for a company clearing operation in Trek Nawa, Helmand province, Afghanistan.
As his dismounted section maneuvered to a blocking position, the enemy unleashed a heavy volume of effective small-arms and medium machine gun fire from multiple firing positions in a U-shaped ambush. As Faircloth engaged the unit, he was shot and rendered unconscious by a bullet impacting and penetrating his helmet and grazing his head.
“Myself and another sergeant jumped in a canal to relieve some pressure off an over watch position, and as soon as we did we definitely got their attention,” said Faircloth. “They focused their fire on us, and when they did was when I got shot in the back of the head knocking me out.”
Regaining consciousness, his first thought was of his kids and his Marines, before he immediately resumed command of his section orienting his machine gunners to suppress the enemy positions in order to relieve pressure on the Marines still caught in the ambush kill zone.
“When I first came to, I immediately removed my Kevlar (helmet), so I could save the picture of my kids, before my blood got all over it and I realized the bullet had went through the picture,” said Faircloth. “At that moment, I told myself I wasn’t going to let myself or my Marines die on foreign soil.”
Refusing medical treatment, except to make sure he was still ready to fight, he continued the operation with his section for three days before returning to the battalion aid station.
“When we got back I was told I had a minor concussion and that I had to be grounded for seven days,” said Faircloth. “After 48 hours, I was ready to get back in the fight and leave the (forward operating base).”
At the change of command ceremony, Maj. Gen. John A. Toolan, the former commanding general of 2nd Marine Division and Brooklyn, N.Y., native, recognized the Marines receiving citations and the heroism they portrayed.
“I want you to hear these citations of Cpl. (Jason M.) Hassinger and Staff Sgt. Faircloth and that’s the indication of the type of heroism that goes on every day,” said Toolan. “What is courage? Courage is being able to act in the face of fear and that’s what these Marines did.”
Article by Lance Cpl. Phillip Clark, 2nd Marine Division