Dakota L. Meyer
U.S. Marine Corps / Medal of Honor
Marine puts himself in harms way multiple times to save 36 comrades
Cpl. Dakota Meyer listened anxiously on the radio as fellow Marines and U.S. Army and Afghan soldiers, trapped in a pre-dawn ambush several hundred yards away, were calling for help.
Meyer had been ordered to remain at a nearby observation post and was refused permission four times to join the fight. Finally he decided to take matters into his own hands.
Meyer, then 21, mounted an armored gun-truck and perched himself at the turret of a .50 caliber machine gun. Marine Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez got behind the wheel. The duo raced into the fight.
“I was either going to be a hero or a zero,” Meyer said afterward. “I was either going to go in there and find them all dead and get them out, or if I would have gone in there and it hadn’t been as bad as I thought I’d be going to jail for disobeying a direct order.”
During a six-hour firefight on Sept. 8, 2009, Meyer entered the kill zone five times, drawing fire each time from enemy mortars, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Eventually joined by others, Meyer returned again and again to fire at Taliban insurgents, evacuate comrades and recover the dead.
On his fifth trip, Meyer left the relative safety of his vehicle on foot and under heavy barrage to locate missing members of his unit despite a bloody shrapnel wound to his elbow.
“I was just waiting to get killed in there. I never thought I was going to make it out alive,” Meyer, a native of Kentucky, later told the Lexington, Ky., Herald-Leader.
The gunfire was so dense, it sounded “like static over our head,” he said.
Meyer was credited with saving 36 Marines and Afghan troops while locating the bodies of five fallen comrades and killing eight Taliban in the process. The five — four Americans and an Afghan soldier in training — were found in a ditch, their guns and radios stolen.
With the help of Afghan troops, Meyer carried their bodies back to a Humvee and to an operating base about a mile away.
As he attended to one dead Afghan soldier, Meyer was approached by an insurgent, and the two wrestled before Meyer beat him to death with a rock, according to the Marine’s account in a book he co-authored about the battle that was published in September 2012.
Meyer was awarded the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony on Sept.15, 2011, becoming the third living serviceman to receive the highest commendation for heroism in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the 10th overall.
At the medal ceremony, President Barack Obama said Meyer “placed himself in the thick of the fight — again and again and again.”
Meyer, who was nearing the end of a four-year enlistment in the Marines, was part of a detachment that was training Afghan National Security Forces in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar Province. Early that September day they were dispatched to Ganjgal village to meet with village elders.
Left outside the village to maintain security at a rally point, Meyer watched his unit make their way into Ganjgal with two platoons of Afghan Army soldiers and border police. Suddenly the village lights were extinguished and more than 50 insurgents opened fire from within Ganjgal and the well-fortified hills above.
The trapped Americans and the Afghan soldiers made multiple calls for air support but none was forthcoming. They remained pinned for two hours. Most troubling, radio contact eventually went dead from four Marines who had been cut off from the others.
The failed mission triggered investigations by the Army and Marine Corps that resulted in reprimands for three unidentified officers. The investigation detailed numerous mistakes in planning and intelligence, and found “inadequate and ineffective” battalion-level leadership.
Later, a reporter for the McClatchy Newspapers who had been embedded with the unit wrote that crucial parts of the battle story were “untrue, unsubstantiated or exaggerated” in official accounts even as Meyer “by all accounts deserved his nomination.”
Today, Meyer wears wristbands engraved with the names of the fallen comrades he located — Marine 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, Marine Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Johnson, and Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class James Layton. A fifth American — Army Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook — later died from his wounds.
“The main thing that we need to get from that day is that those guys died heroes, and they are greatly missed,” he said. “This isn’t about me. If anything comes out of it for me, it’s for those guys.”
Steve Tetreault is the Washington Bureau Chief for Stephens Media
Dakota L. Meyer
U.S. Marine Corps / Medal of Honor
June 26, 1988 in Columbia, Ky. Graduated from Green County High School, in Greensburg, Ky.Enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2006, and served from 2006 to 2010, departing at the rank of sergeant. Deployed to Fallujah, Iraq in 2007 as a scout sniper with the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. Second deployment was to Kunar Province in Afghanistan as a member of Embedded Training Team 2-8.
A running back in high school toying with the idea of playing college football, Meyer was challenged by a Marine Corps recruiter to join the military. "I believe that's what motivated me my whole life, is challenges," Meyer told the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Meyer co-authoried a book published in September 2012, "Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War," in which he recounts the Ganjgal battle, the controversies that grew from it, and his life since leaving the military, including a 2010 suicide attempt.
Afghanistan / Ganjgal