Marine sergeant receives Silver Star for bravery in Afghanistan firefight
When the Pentagon decided in 2008 it was time to send the Marines back to Afghanistan, one of the first battalions to deploy was the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, from Twentynine Palms.
The Pentagon sent the battalion "light" -- that is, without the artillery, supply system, aircraft and full reconnaissance unit that are integral to what is called a Marine air-ground task force.
The Marines were supposed to mentor the Afghan security forces. Instead, they found themselves in combat almost daily, as units of 100 or more Taliban fighters attacked from ambush in hopes of driving the Marines away.
In seven months, 20 members of the battalion were killed, more than 200 wounded. But Marine brass say the 2/7 served notice to the insurgency that the Marines were back to stay and could not be intimidated into leaving.
On Monday, on a U.S. ship in the Gulf of Aden, one of the Marines from that deployment received a Silver Star for combat bravery. Sgt. Franklin M. Simmons, 28, was awarded the Marines' third-highest medal for bravery for actions on Aug. 8, 2008, while acting as a team leader for the Force Reconnaissance Platoon of the 2/7.
While on a patrol in the village of Shewan in Farah province, Simmons' platoon was attacked by "intense rocket-propelled grenade and machinegun fire," according to the Silver Star citation. One of the platoon's vehicles was disabled, trapping Marines in the "kill zone."
Simmons crawled to the top of a berm to locate targets. "He resolutely ignored enemy machine-gun rounds impacting within a foot of his position as he calmly employed his weapon to kill the enemy firing at his fellow Marines."
Simmons killed an estimated 18 enemy fighters and wounded at least two others during the eight-hour firefight. His "devastating fires" saved Marine lives, the citation says.
He was a corporal on the day of the ambush. He is now with a Force Reconnaissance Platoon with the Camp Pendleton-based 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit on a seven-month deployment to the western Pacific and beyond. The award ceremony took place on the amphibious assault ship Boxer.
Simmons lists Richmond, Calif., and Grants Pass., Ore., as hometowns.
-- Tony Perry in San Diego
Photo: Sgt. Franklin Simmons. Credit: Marine Corps