Last September, Corporal Dakota Meyer became the first United States Marine since Vietnam to receive the Medal of Honor and live to tell the tale. And while this one-man wrecking crew of Taliban annihilation may consider his own mission a failure because during six hours of non-stop combat he only managed to almost single-handedly rescue 36 of the 40 men trapped in a life-or-death firefight with a vastly superior, heavily-armed enemy force, I think pretty much every average Joe out there would have a damn hard time thinking about him as anything other than a stone-cold badass.
It all started on the evening of September 8, 2009, when a dozen American Marines and two full platoons of Afghan Army troops were making their way up a narrow valley towards the formerly-Taliban-controlled village of Ganjgal. The Marines and Afghanis were preparing to attend a pre-arranged meeting with the village elders about how the Taliban really isn't all that great in the first place, when all of a sudden every light in the village simultaneously went out, and the whole "hey guys let's talk things out here" diplomacy operation was immediately replaced by muzzle flashes of AK-47s, RPK heavy machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades flying in from every direction in a coordinated ambush. In the amount of time it took the Marines to radio in the words "oh fuck" the 54 Americans and Afghanis were being pasted from three sides by a heavily-entrenched force of at least 150 Taliban warriors equipped with the most badass shit the Soviet Union had to offer in the early 80s.
Corporal Dakota Meyer was assigned to Marine Embedded Training Team 2-8, which, based on the name alone, we can assume to mean that this guy's day job had a hell of a lot more to do with lecturing recruits about keeping their rifles clean and a lot less to do with having pissed-off-as-fuck assholes shooting assault rifle ammunition into your face. For this mission he'd been stationed at a rally point near the entrance of the valley, a few miles away from the raging clusterfuck in the city, but when this guy started hearing frantic radio calls about ambushes, casualties, and all the other horrible shit that was going down he couldn't just sit back there with his hands in his pockets while his brothers were out there battling ferociously for their lives. So Meyer and his buddy, Staff Sergeant Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, did what any Marine in their situation would do – they immediately ran to the commanding officer and requested permission to ride out there and help. Their request was denied, as were subsequent USMC requests for artillery and infantry support from nearby Army units.
But true badasses, almost by definition, refuse to take no for an answer, even when disregarding the negative response could possibly result in court-martial and/or a violent, painful death. First, in a very Gordon and Shughart-style maneuver, Meyer and Rodriguez-Chavez repeated their request four more times. They were rejected every time. Finally, they said fuck it. Unable to sit back and listen his friends being shot to death on the radio while he sat around screwing with bullshit bureaucracy nonsense, Meyer simply grabbed his rifle and told his buddy, "we're going in." Rodriguez-Chavez didn't need much convincing – before Meyer even finished his sentence the Staff Sergeant was already behind the wheel warming the engine up.
Now Corporal Dakota Meyer's Primary MOS was Scout Sniper his official responsibility around this time involved training Marine Corps snipers in proper use of their optics. He wasn't a heavy weapons specialist, a turret gunner, or one of the Corps' designated "one-man ultimate killing machines", but that didn't stop this ferocious juggernaut of Taliban-smiting awesomeness from disobeying a direct order, hopping in the turret of the sort-of-stolen Humvee and launching straight-on into the teeth of an overwhelming enemy ambush at sixty miles an hour. I guess if this guy could cap an enemy soldier at 800 yards with a sniper rifle, he figured he could damn sure lay down an accurate-as-fuck barrage of .50-caliber ammunition into a fortified horde of enemy infantry – so that's exactly what he did.
Braving a hail of gunfire and RPGs reminiscent of the Army's Sunday drive through downtown Mogadishu in 1993, Meyer and Rodriguez-Chavez blasted through the enemy, smashing through the ambush in a frenzy of heavy weapons fire, screeching tires, and judicious use of the steel bumper. When they found a group of pinned-down Afghani troops, Rodriguez-Chaves pulled out an awesome handbrake turn to place the armored Humvee between the ambush and the Afghanis, then provided covering fire from the drivers' seat while Meyer jumped out of the turret, ran over to the first Afghan platoon, grabbed the wounded men, muscled them into the truck, and hopped back in the turret. The two Marines then hauled ass out of there with both the wounded and the healthy Afghan troops. Battling through some of the most hellaciously intense fighting any of those Marines had ever seen (and Meyer had spent a tour of duty in Fallujah), the convoy somehow escaped the valley in one piece.
"I didn't think I was going to die. I knew I was."
But Dakota Meyer and Juan Rodriguez-Chavez were just getting warmed up. With their vehicle covered in pockmarks and bristling with shrapnel, these two hardcore Marines unloaded the wounded, made sure they were in a position to get medical attention to the wounded, and then got right back in the car and went back for their second of FIVE trips into the middle of the killzone.
The second time these guys Bo and Luke Duke'd it into the canyon, it was safe to say that this insane two-man rescue operation was now the primary target for pretty much every single member of the 150-man Taliban ambush Company. With his head, chest, and arms completely exposed out the top of the Humvee turret, 22 year-old former high school linebacker Dakota Meyer continued spraying out covering fire with the .50 cal, while Rodriguez-Chavez swerved past explosions, RPG contrails, and other shit reminiscent of the destruction of the Pillar of Autumn, hauling ass towards the second group of pinned-down Afghani soldiers. Once those guys were evacuated in a manner similar to the first group, the Marines then headed back a third time, this time driving straight into the enemy-occupied village, plowing through the rubble and the wreckage on the road and hauling sack through the streets while dudes fired AK-47s out the windows at them. Fueled by an unstoppable need to save his friends, Meyer desperately fought off daring Taliban warriors who, by this point, were going so far as to run right the fuck up to the truck in an effort to throw hand grenades into the Humvee's windows.
On this trip into town, Meyer and Rodriguez-Chavez found a group of American Marines. Meyer once again hopped out of the turret, drawing the enemy fire to himself, blasting away with his M4, and occasionally swapping rifles with wounded men when his weapon jammed or overheated. Firing with one arm, helping wounded men with the other, he loaded the wounded into the truck, and once again Staff Sergeant Juan Rodriguez-Chavez managed to get them out of there intact.
By their fifth trip into the now-insanely-raging warzone, Meyer had a huge piece of white-hot shrapnel painfully embedded in his arm, and his scorch-marked Humvee was basically being held together by duct tape and bullets, but they somehow managed to enter the village yet again, this time rolling in with a convoy consisting largely of the troops they'd rescued on their previous journeys into this veritable Hell on Earth, laying down curtains of fire in every direction. This time, however, the discovery was a little less heartening – when they came upon the last group of men trapped in the city they found the bodies of the four American Marines who had died together while fighting a fierce last stand against impossible odds.
But Marines don't leave their own behind. Surrounded by fortified buildings packed full of snipers, sandbags, RPGs, and machine gunners, Meyer personally got out of the smoking vehicle yet again, loading the dead into the Humvee one by one while the enemy took potshots at him like a duck in a carnival shooting gallery, and once again burning rubber out of there. When the smoke finally cleared and the battle-rage subsided after six hours of nonstop fighting, Dakota Meyer and Juan Rodriguez-Chavez had saved the lives of 36 men and brought home the bodies of 4 fallen brothers.
"A lot of people call me a hero, and it kills me.
I feel like the furthest thing from that because I let those guys down.
Anything that comes out of it, it’s not for me. It’s for those guys because they are the true heroes."
Meyer finished his tour of duty, returned home to Columbia, Kentucky, and was working at a construction comp any when he received a call from the President's aide informing him that he was going to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions.
Meyer told the aide that he was on the clock, and would have to call back on his lunch break. When he finally did, he made two requests – first, he wanted to drink a beer with the President in the Rose Garden, which, I have to admit, is probably one of the awesomest Medal of Honor-related requests I've ever heard. Second, he wasn't going to accept the award for himself, but on behalf of the men who had died in the fighting on that fateful evening.
The Prez complied on both.
|"Dakota, I know that you've grappled with the grief of that day; that you've said your efforts were somehow a "failure" because your teammates didn't come home. But as your Commander-in-Chief, and on behalf of everyone here today and all Americans, I want you to know it's quite the opposite. You did your duty, above and beyond, and you kept the faith with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps that you love."
Marine Corps Times
Medal of Honor Citation
Transcript of MoH Ceremony Speech