Brian M. Stann
U.S. Marine Corps / Silver Star
Marine honored for courageous action to save wounded, lead battle during first deployment
At 5 a.m. on May 8, 2005, Brian Stann was told to ready his 42-man Marine platoon quickly, head for Ramana Bridge, north of Karabilah on the Euphrates River, seize it and shut it down.
Thirty minutes later, the second lieutenant said, “we were out of there and flying with our hair on fire up to the bridge location.”
Almost immediately, his group took fire from both north and south, he said: “My guys were taking out targets appropriately so that we could push up to the site.” It would be just the beginning of an intense seven-day battle with insurgents, part of Operation Matador, a major U.S. offensive in Iraq near the Syrian border.
Stann, 24, was the 2nd Mobile Assault Platoon leader with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, and it was only two months into the former U.S. Naval Academy football player’s first deployment.
His platoon had been called on such short notice to fill in for another unit unable to make it to the bridge in time. Once his Marines settled into high ground by the overpass, the fighting intensified.
One of Stann’s tanks hit a deadly pressure-plated IED (improvised explosive device), disabling the vehicle and badly injuring three of its four passengers. No Black Hawk helicopters were available for medical evacuation, so Stann called for UH-1 Huey helicopters to airlift his severely wounded men.
“Very brave helicopter pilots landed in the hot zone and were able to medevac these guys out of there,” Stann said. “A lot of people would consider that bad practice. The Huey doesn’t have the staffing and the stabilization that our Black Hawks have for wounded heroes. The fact of the matter is when a guy’s leg is completely pulverized and bleeding profusely, we need to get him out of there. I wasn’t waiting.”
A second Marine unit made it to the bridge area and its leader, 1st Lt. Bryan Leahy, witnessed Stann’s command.
“He was under direct fire while pulling casualties out of that tank. He did it without hesitation. Brian is a big, strong guy, and he had the ability to pull those three Marines, with full body armor, out of the tank. Coupled with the Huey landing without request, it was absolutely courageous,” says Leahy, now a captain in the Marine Corps.
Leahy ordered Stann and his platoon to provide permanent support to the bridge operation. The Marines were engaged in sporadic attacks by IEDs, rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), and sniper fire throughout the mission. The worst battle was two days later, May 10, when Stann’s platoon was ambushed during a nighttime resupply effort.
“It was a tough night. We took a lot of damage and we gave a lot of damage,” Stann said simply. His platoon was hit by suicide car bombs, destroying a tank recovery vehicle and a Humvee, and five Marines were seriously wounded.
“The first thought that went through my mind is that I just got five guys killed,” Stann said. “My second thought a split second later is that I can’t think like that. I immediately started calling for air support and getting the casualties out of there. The bottom line is to stay extremely calm.”
Stann’s platoon survived Operation Matador, but he still thinks about those who were wounded: “There is a young man who will never walk again. There’s another young man who had three brain surgeries and has all kinds of scarring and piercing headaches. The biggest concern for me then and to this day is, ‘Did I make the right calls?’ That’s the burden of leadership.”
Stann was awarded the Silver Star for his actions, his citation praising him for “zealous initiative, courageous actions, and exceptional presence of mind.”
His platoon fought extremely hard and intelligently, Stann said: “They dealt with every adversity that came their way. They made the right decisions. They were spectacular. That award represents what my platoon did.”
Now a captain in the Individual Ready Reserve, Stann has moved his battles into the cage. He has a professional career record of 9-3 and now fights as a light heavyweight in Ultimate Fighting Championships.
Ellen N. Woods, a former staff editor at Military Officer magazine, is a freelance writer living in Alexandria, Va.
Brian M. Stann
U.S. Marine Corps / Silver Star
Born September 24, 1980, at Yokota Air Base in Japan. Grew up in Scranton, PA.
Wife, Theresa, and two daughtersCommissioned as a Marine Corps officer after graduation from the United States Naval Academy, where he was a linebacker on the football team. Served two tours in Iraq as an infantry officer, and was with the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines at the time of this battle
What he did:
Under heavy fire during seven days of battle, he guided his platoon in holding off the enemy while directing several evacuations of wounded Marines and the recovery of battered vehicles.
Where he is now:
Stann lives in Alpharetta, GA, where he is a Captain in the Individual Ready Reserve and is full-time executive director of Hire Heroes USA, a veterans’ advocacy group. He is also a light heavyweight with Ultimate Fighting Championships.
Why he joined the military:
“I realized in high school I would thrive in the military academy environment. . . . 9-11 happened during my junior football season. That changed the Naval Academy forever. The war started the end of my senior year. Once I was commissioned, I had the opportunity to serve on the Navy football coaching staff. I turned it down. I wanted to get to Iraq faster.”
Iraq / Karabilah