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LAR Marine earns Bronze Star for his bravery

21 Sep 2004 | Cpl. Matthew R. Jones

Third Platoon, Weapons Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, became the target of an ambush by terrorist insurgents April 8 in Al Burhadan, Iraq.

For his actions that night, Lance Cpl. Michael J. Ludin, a light armored vehicle mechanic with 3rd Platoon, was awarded a Bronze Star by Maj. Gen. Richard F. Natonski, Commanding General, 1st Marine Division, Sep. 21.

"I still don't see what I did that was any more special than what a lot of the other guys did that night," said Ludin.

Late in the evening, a convoy of Marines headed into Al Burhadan to meet with the Iraqi Border Police to conduct a joint patrol under the cover of night. Just before midnight, the Marines entered the city and the terrorist insurgents began their assault.

"We heard one shot and then the sky exploded with rounds and (rocket propelled grenades).  My vehicle was hit and it killed my gunner," said Sgt. Nicolas M. Maloney, vehicle commander for the lead vehicle.

The insurgents had opened fire from a concrete irrigation ditch alongside the road. From their dug-in fighting position, the enemy launched two RPG's at the lead LAV, immobilizing it.

"We were hit with RPGs, small arms fire and medium machine gun fire," said Cpl. Angel C. Alvarez, 23, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., and scout team leader.

The Marine killed was Cpl. Nicolas Dieruf. He would be the only one to die during the fighting.

Ludin would earn his Bronze Star for his actions during the rest of the attack.

As the Marines began taking fire, a round sprayed sparks by Ludin's face. Uninjured and thinking quickly, he started returning fire at the hostile position.

The Marines in the next two vehicles pushed forward providing fire.  But as they moved forward an improvised explosive device exploded behind the rear vehicle. 

"I pushed forward of the (disabled vehicle), stopping in front of it," said Lance Cpl. Ray J. Laskowski, 19, driver for the third vehicle and native of Reno, Nev. "Sgt. Cook told his Marines to dismount." 

Ludin did not have time to grab his Kevlar helmet when he dismounted. He had only his flak jacket to protect him from hostile fire.

"I was running (communication) between our vehicle and the downed vehicle," said Ludin, 21, a Milwaukee native.  "It was about 25 to 30 meters between the two vehicles,"

Ludin ran back and forth numerous times, while braving rounds being sent downrange from the enemy position.

"I thought I would get hit," said Ludin. 

Maloney ordered his Marines to take cover behind the still mobile vehicle.
Ludin ran behind the disabled vehicle and opened the door, telling Seaman Jamar L. Bing, 21, a corpsman and native of Philadelphia, to get out of the vehicle and take cover. 

"He (basically) dragged me back to the other vehicle," said Bing.

The vehicle the Marines used for cover was continuously shot with small arms fire.  To make matters worse, the disabled vehicle's headlights were illuminating the Marines' position, making it easier for the enemy to pinpoint their fire.

"At that time I said that the headlights from my vehicle needed to be shutoff," said Maloney.

Ludin ran to the vehicle and climbed on top of the LAV, scurried over the top and reached inside to turn off the lights. 

"Ludin was never told to turn off the lights. He just jumped up and ran through the incoming fire," said Cpl. Alfonso A. Flores, 20, a vehicle gunner and native of Los Banos, Calif.

Flores remembers emptying at least 11 magazines of ammunition during the firefight as he provided cover fire for Ludin and the other Marines. 

"Once the lights were out, almost all of the fire died down," said Ludin, who somehow managed to return fire with his M-16A2 service rifle the entire time.  

As the enemy fire decreased, the final LAV maneuvered to flank the enemy.  Cpl. Daniel P. Kunkel, the vehicle's gunner, obtained the enemy in the sights of his 25mm chain gun and was given the order to fire. 

The fire suppressed the enemy and turned the tide of the ambush, according to Alvarez.

"Once the enemy began to retreat, I put the gun on single shot mode to minimize the collateral damage to the surrounding town," Kunkel said.  

Still under small arms fire, Ludin and Bing returned to the downed vehicle to retrieve Dieruf.

The Marines continued to secure the area until daybreak.

Though each Marine did their part in the firefight, they all remember the selfless acts of heroism they witnessed Ludin perform.

"His actions really impressed me," said Sgt. Nicolas M. Maloney, vehicle commander for the lead vehicle. "He just did what had to be done."