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Marines get 'V' for valor

Two Marines cited for bravery in Operation Iraqi Freedom during ceremony at Quantico Marine Corps Base.


Date published: 2/14/2004

Marine Capt. Seth MacCutcheon says he's not trying to show "machismo" when he says he wasn't afraid during intense firefights in the first days of the war in Iraq.

It's just that his mind could process only so many things.

"My brain had to shut off something, and luckily it shut off that part," the 27-year-old said yesterday.

MacCutcheon, who grew up in Boca Raton, Fla., but now lives in Fredericksburg, spoke of his experiences yesterday after receiving the Bronze Star with Combat "V" for valor.

He and former Sgt. Joseph C. "Jay" Carter IV were awarded the medal by their former battalion commander in front of students and staff at The Basic School on the Quantico Marine Corps Base where MacCutcheon now teaches tactics.

"They did their Corps, they did their unit, they did themselves proud and that's what it's all about," said Lt. Col. Royal P. Mortenson, who traveled from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to take part in honoring the two men.

The Bronze Star has been awarded to 126 Marines for their service in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The medal was authorized in 1944 and is given for heroism in action against a U.S. enemy.

Carter, 26, is a Richmond native whose enlistment ended in December. He's now working part time in mortgage consulting and finishing his bachelor's degree at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Carter was the section leader and MacCutcheon the commander of the Combined Anti-Armor Team, Weapons Company, with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines.

They arrived in Kuwait Feb. 15, 2003, and crossed the border into Iraq March 21.

They encountered heavy fighting in Nasiriyah, where their job was helping take control of key bridges to move U.S. forces across the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

They went into Nasiriyah on the third day of the war and eventually secured Highway 7, a "critical" supply route for allied forces.

When the Marines arrived, they were hit with heavy machine gun fire and anti-aircraft artillery. Carter said the first shot that came whizzing by was startling.

"You don't get used to it ever," he said. "If you smell your clothes after two days of fighting, you secrete fear hormones."

One factor that increased the resistance was the experience of Pfc. Jessica Lynch and the soldiers in her maintenance company who were ambushed there.

The 507th was a support company and not equipped for heavy combat. But MacCutcheon said the Iraqis mistakenly figured the resistance the 507th mounted was the toughest assault American military forces could muster, and, therefore, could be defeated.

"They thought that was the maximum effort they'd see," MacCutcheon said.

MacCutcheon's actions between March 21 and 27 "epitomized the essence of combat leadership," according to the citation for his Bronze Star. Carter was cited for "leadership and decision-making" under fire that exceeded expectations for someone at his rank and years of duty.

The one award Carter said he didn't want was the Purple Heart. Capt. Craig T. Douglas, another instructor at The Basic School, received that medal during yesterday's ceremony. He was shot in Iraq on March 22, 2003.

During five days that first week of the war, the Combined Anti-Armor team was engaged in firefights daily in different parts of Nasiriyah.

Six people, including a platoon sergeant, were wounded, but no one died, MacCutcheon said.

He said he didn't fall prey to fear because he set his focus on protecting the people fighting alongside him.

"I was more nervous that I would make a bad call and have [Carter] run into a gauntlet than I was for my own safety," MacCutcheon said.

Carter said he never expected to wind up in combat--much less fighting in an urban environment--when he enlisted in January 2000.

But he said the experience in Iraq was gratifying and one he won't forget.

"It was satisfying to see how regular Iraqis were seeing a better life," he said.

But he said the best part was that all 15 Marines in the section with him survived.

He sees the Bronze Stars as representing the heroism of more than the men whose chests the medals now adorn.

"He got it for the platoon. I got it for my section," Carter said, and then, glancing at his citation, added: "There's a lot more stories than the one in here."

To reach PAMELA GOULD: 540/657-9101 pgould@freelancestar.com

Date published: 2/14/2004

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