U.S. Marine Corps / Silver Star
He helped US forces advance into Fallujah, a key Iraqi city that had been overrun by insurgents
On the night of Nov. 10, 2004, after a day leading his men through a series of running gunfights to secure a building complex in Fallujah, Marine Second Lt. Elliot Ackerman got his next orders: Seize a foothold for the company deeper in the city.
For five more days, Ackerman and his platoon from the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, would fight to the core of insurgent-controlled Fallujah, moving from one location to another while battling jihadists making a bloody last stand, hell bent to take some Marines with them.
On this night, however, the unit spotted a distant three-story building that looked to be a promising place to fight from the next day. Later finding the building partially demolished, Ackerman decided to press on. The unit camped about 100 yards away in what they called the “candy store,” a warren of four or five convenience stores under one roof.
By dawn on Nov. 11, insurgents started milling around the street, unaware of the Marines’ presence.
The insurgents soon found out.
“We were able to get a jump on significant groups trying to cross the street,” Ackerman recalled. “The marksmen from the platoon were having a field day.
“Obviously it didn’t take too long for the insurgents to realize where we were and at that point they started to slowly encroach and surround us.”
The intensity of fire on the unit continued to escalate, he said: “It was getting pretty hairy.”
Ackerman divided his platoon into three squads. One was stationed on the main floor where it exchanged fire with the attackers, while the other two remained in the basement where they rested and refueled.
At midday, the fight took a turn. A platoon sergeant collapsed after a bullet pierced his helmet, grazing his scalp. A machine gunner took a bullet in the leg that nicked his femoral artery, causing heavy bleeding.
Still under heavy fire, Ackerman called for medical help, but the first evacuation team was turned back when one of its armored track vehicles was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. The next push, by a mobile assault platoon of heavily armed Humvees, successfully removed the wounded.
An hour later, Ackerman got new orders. Move out, his commander said. More Marines were pushing through and Ackerman’s unit was to link up with them and move deeper into the city.
Since insurgents were positioned outside the front door, Ackerman ordered plastic explosives stacked against the back wall. When detonated, the blast created an opening and the platoon left the building to join their fellow forces.
A quarter-mile deeper into the city, the Marines were channeled into narrow streets. Corps tanks were blasting left and right as insurgents fired from rooftops.
The noise was deafening, but through the din came a new command: Go firm! Go firm! In other words, the Marines were to hold their positions.
“My radio operator and I just went barreling into this house,” Ackerman said, and the rest of his platoon followed.
But there were insurgents on the roof. As the platoon fought to clear the house, another order to move again came as commanders wanted to reposition their tanks.
“So we had to basically move up to another street and into another house, which was a pretty hairy fight to get into there,” he said.
By the end of the day, Ackerman’s platoon of 46 was down to 21 Marines who could fight effectively, a testament to the heavy fighting. The next day they resumed the fight to capture Fallujah, a mission accomplished a few days later.
Ackerman was awarded a Silver Star, the third highest award for valor. His Marine Corps commendation said he left safety several times to pull wounded comrades to shelter, and “rushed through a gauntlet of deadly enemy fire” to direct rescue vehicles to where his men were injured.
Ackerman also “continually attacked with his platoon directly into the heart of the enemy with extreme tenacity,” the Marines said.
Ackerman was discharged from the Marines with the rank of captain and now works at the State Department in counter-terrorism.
James C. Roberts is president of the American Veterans Center. From 1968 to 1971 he served as a naval officer aboard the destroyer USS Henderson.
U.S. Marine Corps / Silver Star
Born April 12, 1980, in Los Angeles. Now lives in Washington, D.C.
Joined the Marine Corps on May 19, 2003. Deployed to Iraq on June 22, 2004. Had one tour of duty in Iraq (2004-2005) and one in Afghanistan (2008).
Was assigned to 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. Was a second lieutenant at the time of the incident and later was promoted to captain.
WHAT HE DID
Led his platoon in a series of battles that helped his Marine Corps battalion gain a foothold in Fallujah, a key stronghold of insurgent forces in Iraq.
WHERE HE IS NOW
Works at the U.S. State Department in counter-terrorism.
WHY HE JOINED THE MARINES
“I joined the Marine Corps to serve something larger than myself, to serve my country and my fellow Marines.”
Iraq / Fallujah