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Marine lieutenant exposed himself to enemy fire to save another in Iraq

27 Jun 2006 | Sgt. Roe F. Seigle

Marines here say a lieutenant who was leading Marines and Iraqi soldiers through the volatile streets of Haditha, June 14 showed uncommon valor when he ran into a barrage of enemy gunfire to pull a wounded Marine to safety. 

1st. Lt. Rick Posselt, a 25-year-old from Crystal River, Fla., said he is not the Marine who deserves the recognition.

Cpl. Michael Estrella, who was killed by sniper fire during that same patrol, is the real hero and deserves the recognition, said Posselt. 

The mission Posselt, a platoon commander assigned to the Hawaii-based India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, led the Marines and their Iraqi Army counterparts on that day was like any other – a patrol through the winding streets of Haditha. On this particular patrol they were searching for a suspected insurgent.

Haditha is a city of 30,000 nestled along the Euphrates River northwest of Baghdad in Iraq’s Al Anbar province. 

When Posselt came to an intersection in a marketplace, the Marines began receiving gunfire and saw Estrella, 20, fall to the ground.

Shortly after the initial ‘cracks’ of enemy gunfire pelted the ground below and spit up shards of concrete around him, Posselt said his platoon was shot at from another direction.  

Posselt’s first instinct was to get Estrella to safety – and he did so risking his own life in the process. 

As the enemy gunfire continued, Posselt ran to the wounded Estrella and pulled him approximately 15 feet to safety, further exposing himself to more gunfire.

“I just did what my instinct told me to do,” said Posselt.  “I was just trying to take care of my Marines.”

Looking back, Posselt feels any other Marine in his position would have done the same thing that day.

“I just happened to be the Marine closest to Estrella when he fell,” said Posselt.  “I had to get him off that street and that was really the only thought going through my mind.” 

With Estrella out of harm’s way, several Iraqi soldiers returned well aimed and disciplined fire to the enemy’s position, without injuring any civilians on the street that day. 

Still, Posselt does not believe he is worthy of recognition, but Capt. Andy Lynch, 31, India Company’s commanding officer, says Posselt will be recognized for his brave actions on the battlefield that day.

Sgt. Jason Sakowski, 26, said he also believes Posselt is worthy of recognition.

Sakowski, one of Posselt’s squad leaders, was present during the fire fight and called in reinforcements and a medical evacuation while returning and directing fire at the enemy combatants. The enemy combatants then fled the area. 

“He (Posselt) put his life on the line without even thinking about it,” said Sakowski, a 26-year-old native of Wilkesboro, N.C.  “This is my third combat deployment but it is the first time I have seen bravery to that degree.” 

“Muhammad,” a soldier assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division, was also present during the firefight and was one of the Iraqi soldiers who returned fire to the enemy combatants. He agrees with Sakowski – Posselt’s actions were commendable.

“He (Posselt) showed uncommon courage that day,” said Muhammad, through a translator. “He set an example for other soldiers to follow. I think he is a hero.”

Posselt gives more credit to Sakowski for his role in the fire fight than he gives himself for risking his life to pull Estrella to safety. 

“Sakowski accomplished many things at once in the middle of the firefight,” said Posselt. 

Sakowski called for a medical evacuation, directed fire and called in the reinforcements that arrived within a minute of being called out, said Posselt.

“Sakowski made some very important decisions under fire,” said Posselt.  “He stayed calm and remembered his training in the heat of a battle.”

Posselt also said the Marines are mourning the loss of their friend and fellow warrior, Estrella, but are still focused on training the Iraqi Army to eventually provide security in this region along the Euphrates River on their own, allowing U.S. forces to eventually leave for good. 

“I want to bring the rest of the Marines home safely, first and foremost,” said Posselt, right after a memorial service was held for Estrella at the Marines’ fortified base here. “But we also have to help get a government established so we do not have to come back here 10 years down the road with the same situation we had in 2003. We owe it to Estrella to accomplish the mission he came here to complete.” 

The Hawaii-based Marine battalion, also known as “America’s Battalion,” arrived in March and are scheduled to depart Iraq this fall and be replaced by another Hawaii-based unit.

Contact Sgt. Seigle at: seiglemf@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil.