President Presents Medal of Honor to Marine

WASHINGTON — Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma today draped the pale blue rib­bon sus­pend­ing the Medal of Hon­or around the neck of Marine Corps Sgt. Dako­ta L. Mey­er, the first liv­ing Marine to receive the award for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“It’s been said that where there is a brave man, in the thick­est of the fight, there is the post of hon­or,” the com­man­der in chief said. “Today we pay trib­ute to an Amer­i­can who placed him­self in the thick of the fight again, and again, and again.”

Oba­ma said Mey­er, who is now 23 and was just 21 that day in Afghanistan, is “one of the most down-to-earth guys you will ever meet.”

When the president’s staff called the young Marine so the com­man­der in chief could offi­cial­ly noti­fy him of the medal, Oba­ma said, Mey­er was at work on his new civil­ian job at a con­struc­tion site.

“He felt he couldn’t take the call right then because, he said, ‘If I don’t work, I don’t get paid,’ ” Oba­ma said.

“So we arranged to make sure he got the call dur­ing his lunch break,” the pres­i­dent added.

Oba­ma then turned to the events of Sept. 8, 2009, the day Mey­er earned the medal as a cor­po­ral serv­ing with Marine Embed­ded Train­ing Team 2–8, Region­al Corps Advi­so­ry Com­mand 3–7, in Kunar province, Afghanistan.

Just before dawn, a patrol of Afghan forces and their Amer­i­can train­ers, on foot and mak­ing their way through a nar­row val­ley, was plan­ning to meet with a group of vil­lage elders, the pres­i­dent said.

“Sud­den­ly, all over the val­ley, the lights go out � and that’s when it hap­pens,” Oba­ma said.

About a mile away, Mey­er and Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez could hear the ambush over the radio.

Gun­fire poured from hous­es, the hill­sides, and even the local school, Oba­ma said.

Soon, the patrol was pinned down, tak­ing fero­cious fire from three sides. “Men were being wound­ed and killed, and four Amer­i­cans � Dakota’s friends � were sur­round­ed,” he said.

After ask­ing four times to go clos­er to the fight and help, and hear­ing each time that it was too dan­ger­ous, the two Marines got inside a near­by Humvee and head­ed into the fight, Rodriguez-Chavez at the wheel and Mey­er man­ning the gun tur­ret.

“They were defy­ing orders, but they were doing what they thought was right,” the pres­i­dent said.

On two solo trips into the ambush area, Mey­er repeat­ed­ly got out of the Humvee to help Afghan troops, many wound­ed, inside the vehi­cle and back to safe­ty.

“A third time they went back, insur­gents run­ning right up to the front of the Humvee, Dako­ta fight­ing them off,” Oba­ma said.

This time, the men drove right up to the line of fire, and helped a group of wound­ed Amer­i­cans bat­tle their way to safe­ty.

They then head­ed back on the fourth trip with Mey­er wound­ed in the arm and the vehi­cle rid­dled with bul­lets and shrap­nel, the pres­i­dent said.

“Dako­ta lat­er con­fessed, ‘I didn’t think I was going to die, I knew I was.’ But still, they pushed on, find­ing the wound­ed [and] deliv­er­ing them to safe­ty,” Oba­ma said.

On the fifth trip, the two Marines drove through fire “that seemed to come from every win­dow, every door­way, every alley,” he said.

Final­ly, the two reached the four Amer­i­cans who had been sur­round­ed.

“Dako­ta jumped out and he ran toward them, draw­ing all those ene­my guns toward him­self; bul­lets kick­ing up the dirt all around him,” Oba­ma said.

Mey­er and oth­ers who had joined him picked up the fall­en Marines and, “through all those bul­lets, all the smoke, all the chaos, car­ried them out one by one � because as Dako­ta says, that’s what you do for a broth­er,” the com­man­der in chief said.

“Dako­ta says he’ll accept this medal in their name,” the pres­i­dent said. “So today, we remem­ber the hus­band who loved the out­doors, Lt. Michael John­son; the hus­band and father they called ‘Gun­ny J,’ Gun­nery Sgt. Edwin John­son; the deter­mined Marine who fought to get on that team, Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick; the medic who gave his life tend­ing to his team­mates, Hos­pi­tal­man 3rd Class James Lay­ton; and a sol­dier wound­ed in that bat­tle who was nev­er recov­ered: Sgt. 1st Class Ken­neth West­brook.”

Oba­ma said while he knows Mey­er has thought of him­self as a fail­ure because some of his team­mates didn’t come home, “as your com­man­der in chief, and on behalf of every­one here today and all Amer­i­cans, I want you to know it’s quite the oppo­site.”

“Because of your hon­or, 36 men are alive today,” the pres­i­dent said. “Because of your courage, four fall­en Amer­i­can heroes came home, and in the words of James Layton’s mom, [their fam­i­lies] could lay their sons to rest with dig­ni­ty.”

Meyer’s father, Mike, grand­par­ents, and more than a hun­dred friends and fam­i­ly mem­bers attend­ed today’s cer­e­mo­ny.

Because of Meyer’s hum­ble exam­ple, chil­dren all across Amer­i­ca will know that “no mat­ter who you are or where you come from, you can do great things as a cit­i­zen and a mem­ber of the Amer­i­can fam­i­ly,” the pres­i­dent said.

The com­man­der in chief then asked Rodriguez-Chavez, now a gun­nery sergeant, and all those present at the cer­e­mo­ny who served with Mey­er, to stand “and accept the thanks of a grate­ful nation.”

Mey­er joined in the applause.

Just before the cita­tion read­ing and medal pre­sen­ta­tion, Oba­ma said, “Every mem­ber of our team is as impor­tant as the oth­er � that’s a les­son that we all have to remem­ber, as cit­i­zens and as a nation, as we meet the tests of our time here at home and around the world. To our Marines, to all our men and women in uni­form, to our fel­low Amer­i­cans, let us always be faith­ful.”

Mey­er, who has left the active Marine Corps, and is a sergeant in the Inac­tive Reserve, is the 298th Marine ever to have received the medal, cre­at­ed dur­ing the Civ­il War. The nation’s high­est mil­i­tary hon­or, the Medal of Hon­or is award­ed for risk of life in com­bat beyond the call of duty.

Mey­er is the third liv­ing ser­vice mem­ber to receive the Medal of Hon­or for actions dur­ing the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, fol­low­ing Army Staff Sgt. Sal­va­tore A. Giun­ta, who received the medal Nov. 16, 2010, and Army Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, who accept­ed the award July 12.

Of ten Medal of Hon­or recip­i­ents for actions dur­ing the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, the only oth­er Marine is Cpl. Jason E. Dun­ham, who died April 22, 2004, of wounds received when he cov­ered a live grenade with his own body to save the lives of fel­low Marines in Iraq. Dunham’s par­ents accept­ed his posthu­mous Medal of Hon­or Jan. 11, 2007.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)