Support our mission
Cpl. Nicholas Cox, 22, a combat engineer from Dallas, with Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, was awarded a Bronze Star with V for valor recently for his actions during a firefight in Afghanistan last June 21.

Cpl. Nicholas Cox, 22, a combat engineer from Dallas, with Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, was awarded a Bronze Star with V for valor recently for his actions during a firefight in Afghanistan last June 21. (Cindy Fisher / S&S)

CAMP SCHWAB, Okinawa — Marine Cpl. Nicholas Cox was in a perilous situation one day last summer in Afghanistan.

"I knew I had to kill this guy, that he was a threat," Cox said of his thought process during a deadly firefight with insurgents behind the tiny village of Tut Naw on June 21. "Everyone was exposed, and this guy needed to be taken out."

That’s when what he described as "just a normal mission" took a turn. It’s also where Cox, 22, carried out actions for which he was recently awarded a Bronze Star with "V" device for valor.

He and other Combat Assault Battalion troops had left Camp Schwab last February. The troops were on a nine-month deployment as an embedded training team for a platoon of Afghan National Army soldiers and had already been in several firefights with insurgents, according to Cox.

On that day, the Afghan platoon and their Marine advisers were working with U.S. soldiers of the Italy-based 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment in a search of Tut Naw, about three miles from the Pakistan border.

They left their forward base before dawn, but the sun was up by the time they entered the village, which was empty.

"Usually a bad sign," Cox said. "We knew something was up."

Some U.S. Army snipers on higher terrain saw about seven insurgents hiding in a nearby draw, pinned them down and called in artillery fire.

The draw offered the enemy multiple hiding spots, Cox said.

Artillery rounds rained in for about an hour as the Marines helped the Afghan platoon search the village for more insurgents. When the artillery stopped, Cox said, the Afghan soldiers and the Marines entered the draw for a battle assessment.

Cox, Petty Officer 1st Class Jesse Mitsch and the Afghan platoon commander went in on a donkey trail, as Capt. Freddie Martinez and Gunnery Sgt. Matthew Kreger entered on the other side with most of the Afghan platoon.

They eventually found a weapons cache, Mitsch recalled. But they found no bodies or blood, Cox said.

Then Cox glanced up and saw an insurgent, weapon in hand, about 30 feet away.

"It was like he was waiting for the platoon to get closer," Cox said. "I yelled out something like, ‘Hey, there he is!’ "

The insurgent fired, instantly killing the Afghan commander just five feet in front of Cox. More enemy fire took out two other Afghan soldiers.

Cox popped up from his covered position and shot the enemy gunman.

Mitsch remembers "a lot of shooting."

It all happened in about 30 seconds, Cox said.

By the time shooting stopped, Cox had been hit with a small-caliber round that entered the fatty part of his upper arm and left fragments throughout his arm and upper back.

"I didn’t even realize I had been shot at this point," Cox said. "I never even felt it until the next day."

Again, Cox happened to glance behind their position and saw another insurgent.

"I engaged him, and in three shots, he was down," Cox said.

By the end of the fight, the Marines estimated that at least seven insurgents were killed.


Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up