CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
The blast hit just outside his patrol base – a small, concrete schoolhouse in northern Marjah, May 4. The impact, said Cpl. Jason Ducote, made him feel "like all the fillings had fallen out of his teeth."
Within an instant, the 24-year-old squad leader with 3rd Platoon, India Company, 3rd Battalion 6th Marine Regiment, was gearing up with his men to find the cause of the explosion.
Just before leaving the patrol base, Staff Sgt. Toben Hill, a civil affairs Marine, had asked Ducote if he needed any help on the patrol. On a normal day, Hill and his CA Marines would be helping local villagers build schoolhouses, dig wells, or repairing damages caused by combat. Today, Hill just wanted to help out. After all, every Marine is a rifleman.
Initial reports said a rocket-propelled grenade had been fired from the south, from a group of compounds, or mud houses, where locals live. It exploded just north of the patrol base headquarters.
Ducote, with his 10-man squad and Hill, encountered a local villager who pointed out two compounds where he thought the RPG had come from. The first came up empty, but inside the second, the Marines found a man in his mid-20's. He claimed to have been asleep the whole time!
Ducote was suspicious. "I immediately knew something wasn't right. How does anyone sleep through all this commotion?" the Reidsville, N.C., native wondered. "We decided to flexi-cuff and detain the man until we could get a proper gunshot residue test on his hands." With the detainee in custody, the Marines continued the patrol, looking for evidence of enemy activity.
Back at the schoolhouse, reports were coming in that another local villager was seen pointing downward to an area in the ground. Thinking this might be the RPG launch tube, Ducote, with Hill behind him, took lead, and the Marines set out to examine the area.
They were patrolling just outside visual range of the schoolhouse when all hell broke loose.
"Over the radio, they tell me they can't see me. As I began to respond, our detainee starts screaming, 'Mine, mine, mine!' in Pashtu, and takes off running," Ducote said. "My first instinct was to recapture the detainee, but that's when I saw it."
Hidden in the tall grass, just a few inches away from Ducote, was an improvised explosive device – a white sandbag, with wires and a white receiver box.
Ducote had only seconds to respond. He quickly spun around, grabbed the Marine closest to him, who was Hill, and threw him down into a ditch. Risking his life, Ducote stood back up, and began screaming to his Marines, "Everyone get back! Get back! GET ... "
Then his words were drowned out by an ear-splitting explosion. The blast knocked Ducote out. When he came to, his first question was, "How are the men?"
The men were fine, thanks to Ducote. "He is one of the best Marines I have had the privilege to work with," Hill said, grateful to be alive and in one piece. "There is no way I can ever thank him enough for what he did for me. He saved my life!"
"We are extremely proud to have Marines like Cpl. Ducote in the company," said Capt. William Hefty, 3/6, I Company, company commander. "Most importantly the Marines in his squad, place their trust and faith in him every day, knowing they can count on him to do it right."
Ducote, who incurred a Grade-3 concussion from the blast, as well as severe trauma to his back, is currently recuperating at Camp Leatherneck's Wounded Warrior Detachment. Even though this is the second time he has been hit by an IED in less than a month, there is only one thing on his mind: "Getting better so I can return to my men as soon as possible."
"These types of actions are occurring all over the area of operations across all the battalions. Marines are continuously doing things that amaze and impress," Hefty added. "The stress that Marines like Corporal Ducote are routinely subjected to and still they are able to maintain their cool and make the right decision under the most extreme situations is a testament to the dedication and professionalism inherent to our Corps."
When asked if he considered his actions to be heroic, the son of a Vietnam Marine and grandson of a World War II Marine had this to say: "I'm just glad everyone was alright. I don't think I am a hero.
Every time I leave the wire, I am in charge of the safety and security of my men. Terms like 'hero' are for those who go above and beyond the call of duty. I just did what was asked of me – accomplish the mission, and bring my men back safe."