Sunday, May 24, 2009

Happy Memorial Day

Tomorrow is set aside as the day when Americans honor the men and women who have sacrificed so much so that we can live free. We throw the word “hero” around much too casually these days, assigning the title based on personality rather than exceptional deeds. I am blessed to know a real hero, Andre Rivera, and would like to share his story.

By Laura BaileyMarine Corps Times
September 29, 2004

As insurgent uprisings flared in cities throughout Iraq in April, a group of American civilians trapped in a besieged building thought the end was near.But they found hope of escape from a small team of Marines that has been recognized for helping to save those civilians’ lives.Maj. James Purmort, 34, and Staff Sgt. Andre Rivera, 29, both reservists with the 4th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, were awarded the Bronze Star with “V” device for valor Sept. 19 during a ceremony in West Palm Beach, Fla.

They were two of four Marines with 4th ANGLICO who received Bronze Stars for actions in Iraq. Staff Sgt. Derrick Leath and Capt. Matt Brannen were also awarded the Bronze Star with combat “V.”

Purmort and Rivera’s seven-man team was attached to a group of Ukrainian troops outside Kut when 400 Mahdi Army troops, loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, attacked a Coalition Provisional Authority building inside the city on the morning of April 7.The building held 87 civilians and military members, including Ukrainian forces and U.S. Army troops.Stationed at a Ukrainian base across the river from the CPA building, Purmort and Rivera with Team 3, call sign “Lightning 30,” could see the building from their position, but Ukrainian troops forbade anyone to leave the post to assist, Rivera recalled.Out of optionsWith no other option, and under small arms and sniper fire throughout the day and night, Purmort and Rivera coordinated air attacks in an effort to keep the CPA building from falling.“They were literally going to be slaughtered,” Rivera said. “I remember thinking Americans are going to die right in front of us, so we better do our best tonight.”For 27 intense hours, the team coordinated 50 sorties by fighter jets and gunships.

With their help, all 87 people in the building were evacuated in armored personnel carriers just as Mahdi Army troops infiltrated the first floor of the building.Throughout the engagement, the team’s members controlled four to five sets of aircraft at the same time, something they had never done in training, Rivera said. This included taking out a mortar position just as it began to fire rounds into the building, according to award documentation.

“That day everything just came together. It was beautiful,” Rivera said. “Everyone rose to the occasion. No one hesitated.”

Thank you to everyone who since the inception of this country has stepped up to defend us and keep us safe. Thank you to the families who have sacrificed your loved ones that I can enjoy a level of freedom not known anywhere on Earth. Thank you, Andre.

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