3rd Recon leader accepts Bronze Star by recognizing full battalion

3rd Reconnaissance Battalion Marines prepare to exit a backyard on a patrol south of Fallujah, Iraq, in November 2006. A day later, the Marines conducted search-and-cordon operations in Fuhaylat, rescued one hostage and uncovered two partially-buried weapons caches.


By CINDY FISHER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 16, 2008

CAMP COURTNEY, Okinawa — “The toughest days were when we lost Marines.”

And Lt. Col. William Seely said he still feels the loss of every Marine killed during the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion’s deployment to Iraq from September 2006 to April 2007.

Receiving a Bronze Star with Combat V last week for his part in the deployment punctuated that feeling, 3rd Recon’s commanding officer said after an award ceremony at Camp Courtney.

“It does bring back the realization that there are still six men who are not here to see it,” he said. “Every day, I reflect on those six men, and I don’t think there ever will be a time I will not.”

He and his senior enlisted leader, Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Pickering, see their Marines as family, Seely said.

For his troops in the unit, it was the loss of brothers.

When the battalion returned to Camp Schwablast April, some of the Marines talked about those killed during the deployment.

Staff Sgt. Branden J. Francis, a communications chief, said it was tough to lose fellow Marines.

“I do miss them,” Francis said. “I just hope they know that I’ll never forget them and that 3rd Recon hasn’t either.”

Sgt. William Edwards was injured in the same explosion that killed another Marine, and Edwards was flown by medevac to the United States for treatment. He had traveled to Okinawa for 3rd Recon’s return that April night, and he talked about 1st Lt. Nathan Krissoff, who was killed Dec. 9, 2006.

“He was very approachable and extremely friendly,” Edwards recalled.

Seely and Pickering felt the loss of Marines like the loss of sons, Seely said Tuesday.

“That made it all the more personal,” he said of the losses.

As Marines, “we understand the risks involved,” Seely said. “This is a high-risk mission. It is what we did sign up to do. We accept those challenges, and we accept those risks.”

During the deployment, 3rd Recon provided reconnaissance and surveillance for ground combat elements. The battalion worked in the greater Fallujah area, patrolling the smaller outlying towns.

“As operations had cleared Fallujah, those particular towns became safe havens for insurgents,” Seely explained. “So we went into those areas and conducted operations to disrupt that enemy activity.”

One of Seely’s favorite memories is from a morning in the fall of 2006.

“It was early; the sun was just coming up,” Seely recounted. “I heard this scrubbing noise, so I kind of opened my door in the back. I looked outside, and there was a sergeant out there.”

Having just returned from the patrol, the sergeant was covered in dirt, camouflage paint still clinging to his face. But he was out there in that backyard with his gear, Seely remembered.

“You could see him just laying it all out, and he started scrubbing his gear, his weapon. I just kind of sat there and watched him. He cleaned every piece of gear meticulously.

“He took care of his gear first,” Seely continued, “and then I saw him go and check on his men and check them cleaning their gear.”

That simple thing “further fueled the fire for me,” he said.

Many of Seely’s good memories revolve around accomplishments by his Marines.

Another fond memory is from November 2006.

While on patrol, Company A troops rescued a hostage held by insurgents.

“It was determined that [the hostage] was literally hours away from execution by extremists,” Seely said. “That was a big point for the men to feel good about what they did. They could see a clear tangible success out of that mission.”

Marines with the 3rd Recon also were responsible for uncovering many weapons cache sites, seizing heavy artillery, ordinance, mortars and IED-making materials.

Their efforts allowed others to get schools started and jobs and markets back on the streets, the battalion commander said.

And that’s why the Bronze Star he received is really for his men, said Seely. His unit is scheduled to redeploy to Iraq later this year.

‘They were all fine men’

During the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion’s deployment in the Fallujah, Iraq, area from September 2006 to April 2007, six Marines were killed:

Sgt. Jonathan J. Simpson, 25, of Rockport, Texas, died Oct. 14, 2006.

Cpl. Kyle W. Powell, 21, of Colorado Springs, Colo., died Nov. 4, 2006.

Cpl. Jose A. Galvan, 22, of San Antonio, died Nov. 5, 2006.

1st Lt. Nathan M. Krissoff, 25, of Reno, Nev., died Dec. 9, 2006.

To honor his son’s sacrifice, physician Bill Krissoff sought presidential permission to become commissioned in the Navy’s Medical Corps, said battalion commander Lt. Col. William Seely. The Los Angeles Times reported that the 61-year-old received that commission Nov. 17, 2007.

Sgt. Gary S. Johnston, 21, of Windthorst, Texas, died Jan. 23, 2007.

Cpl. Dustin J. Lee, 20, of Quitman, Miss., died March 21, 2007.

Lee was a military police dog handler, and after his death, his family petitioned the Marine Corps to adopt his dog, Lex, said 3rd Recon’s Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Pickering. The adoption went through Dec. 22, and 8-year-old Lex was retired from the Marine Corps two years before mandatory retirement, according to The Associated Press.

“They were all fine men,” Seely said.

Seely and Pickering still maintain contact with the families of the fallen Marines, Pickering said. Five of the families are talking about adopting the unit during its upcoming deployment back to Iraq later this year, he said.

Both leaders also maintain contact with eight Marines who were wounded during their 2006-2007 deployment, Pickering said.

“Some of those will never come back to active duty, and those were just as difficult to overcome,” he said.

It’s important for those injured Marines to know they will always be Marines, Pickering said.

“Who are we to stop communicating with them?”

— Cindy Fisher

In this undated file photo, an unidentified Marine with Alpha Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, keeps a lookout from a building during the battalion's deployment to the Fallujah area of Iraq from September 2006 to April 2007.