Marine gets Silver Star for actions during Iraq firefight

Gunnery Sgt. Robert J. Blanton receives an award packet at a ceremony Thursday on Okinawa from Lt. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, who presented the Silver Star to Blanton for his actions in Iraq.


By CINDY FISHER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 9, 2009

CAMP SCHWAB, Okinawa — Gunnery Sgt. Robert J. Blanton may have received a Silver Star on Thursday, but no one was worried about the honor going to his head.

A platoon sergeant with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, Blanton repeatedly heaped praise upon his fellow soliders involved in the Aug. 10 battle in Iraq while insisting the honor was a special byproduct of simply doing his job.

"Ultimately, you don’t do what you do for awards," he said after being awarded the nation’s third-highest military honor for valor in Iraq. "The fact that you receive an award afterwards … that’s an honor."

Blanton was recognized for his actions Aug. 10 in a desert town north of Baghdad. On that day, Blanton and his 1st Platoon, Company A troops were clearing what everyone thought was an abandoned house.

But they quickly found themselves in a firefight with insurgents in the building.

Blanton’s award citation recounts how he directed his vehicles to support the Marines engaged in the firefight and then left his own vehicle, endangering himself, to return fire at the insurgents.

Blanton then returned to his vehicle and directed the driver to ram the house’s outer wall to further expose the insurgents inside.

He next led a small force to clear the building so a wounded Marine could be rescued.

Inside the building, Blanton had to switch from his rifle to his pistol for close-quarters battle with the enemy, according to the citation. With the rescue complete, Blanton called in close air support, ending the battle.

"I just happened to be in a position to see something that needed to be done, and I just did it," Blanton said, but he was quick to turn attention to the other troops.

"I could tell they were doing what needed to be done and thought, ‘Man, I better get in this pretty quick or I’m going to be left out,’ " he said.

Blanton recalled Thursday that Cpl. James Bunney, who was in his vehicle, was instrumental in preventing a suicide bomber from getting into their vehicle and "blowing himself up on us."

Two Marines were wounded but continued to return fire, Blanton said.

He said his platoon commander, Capt. Luke Lazzo, who in November received a Bronze Star with V for the same engagement, led the Marines to rescue their wounded comrades.

And Blanton remembers Sgt. Michael H. Ferschke Jr., a team leader killed during the fight.

"If Sgt. Ferschke hadn’t done what he did, I’m pretty sure others would have lost their lives," Blanton said, as he described how Ferschke entered the building to draw the fire of about 10 insurgents, allowing the rest of his team to enter the room and return fire.

"He did something more heroic, meaningful than what I did," Blanton said. "I just capitalized on an opportunity."