MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, Okinawa — Two Bronze Stars and a Navy Commendation Medal, all for valor, are commonplace at awards ceremonies these days. But when the three medals are pinned on the chest of a single person — who also is meritoriously promoted — people notice.
Petty Officer 3rd Class William J. Harris, a Navy corpsman, stood at attention as he was lauded for his heroics in Afghanistan during a brief ceremony Monday at Futenma.
“HM3 Harris proves you can not only do the right thing once, but you can do it continually,” Maj. Gen. Raymond C. Fox, commanding general of 1st Marine Air Wing, told the more than 200 Marines and sailors in attendance.
The three medals were for separate actions against hostile forces while Harris was assigned to Embedded Training Team 5-4 to assist the Afghanistan National Army.
According to his first Bronze Star citation, Harris participated in more than 60 combat operations and was involved in more than 50 engagements with enemy forces.
On Jan. 17, 2009, Harris provided heavy machine gun fire to ward off insurgents who were closing in on a downed CH-47 in the Korengal Valley.
“[The insurgents] rushed the aircraft to see if there were any survivors,” the 24-year-old Monroe, Mich., native recalled Monday.
He “jumped up on the guns” and kept the enemy at bay, allowing helicopters to evacuate the casualties.
The Navy Commendation Medal was pinned on for moving an Afghan National Army element “to a safe and covered location allowing them more effective engagements with numerous enemy force positions” during a firefight July 1, according to the citation. During the same battle, he treated a wounded Afghan soldier and brought him to safety.
But Harris wasn’t done.
On July 30 he “risked his own life to move 400 meters under heavy fire to secure and treat a wounded U.S. Army soldier,” his second Bronze Star citation reads.
He then organized a litter team and led it more than 500 meters, again under heavy fire, to a secure location where he provided first aid until the soldier could be evacuated.
“Harris was an astonishing warrior and sailor throughout his entire ETT deployment to Afghanistan,” Capt. John Farris, Harris’ officer in charge in Afghanistan, said in an e-mail from Hawaii. “The bottom line is that what led Harris to his receiving three awards at once was his leadership and courage during the most ferocious of times.”
After the ceremony, the newly frocked Petty Officer 2nd Class Harris reflected on his time in Afghanistan.
“I loved it out there,” Harris said. “I loved working alongside the ANA. I ate, worked and slept alongside them. If there was another billet opening up, you can sign me up.”