Major Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, presents Petty Officer 2nd Class Alejandro Salabarria the Silver Star Medal during a ceremony at Stone Bay aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C. Salabarria was awarded for his actions in Afghanistan Sept. 15, 2014.
(Photo and article by Sergeant Lia Gamato, 5 FEB 2016.)
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - Petty Officer 2nd Class Alejandro Salabarria, a corpsman with 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, Marine Raider Regiment, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, was awarded the Silver Star Medal during a ceremony at Stone Bay aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., Feb. 5, for his actions in Afghanistan.
Salabarria, a Miami native, joined the Navy in December 2008 with the full intention of becoming a corpsman serving at an infantry unit. However, his first orders directed him to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina.
Unfazed, Salabarria decided to take control of his future service as a corpsman, taking an interest in special operations. He attended the Basic Reconnaissance School and Army Basic Airborne School, then received orders to 3d Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. While preparing for deployment with Scout Sniper Platoon, Salabarria jumped on the opportunity to attend the Special Operations Combat Medic Course in Fort Bragg, N.C. Upon graduation, he received orders to 2nd MRB.
“From all of his training, he was basically a junior (Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsman), which was exactly what we needed on the team,” said a critical skills operator with Marine Special Operations Team 8214, Marine Special Operations Company F.
Salabarria checked into the team in 2013 and, from the start, he set himself apart.
“Most corpsmen stay in their bubble … but Sal was always the guy who wanted to go out and be a CSO before he was a corpsman,” said a critical skills operator. “Which was great because it’s hard to instill that aggressiveness in someone.”
In June 2014, the team deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. It was nearing the end of their deployment, on Sept. 15, 2014, that the team was caught by enemy fire.
“We were headed to the (landing zone), and what caught my eye was that off to my right there was one guy praying. No one else was praying, just this one individual,” said the CSO. “Didn’t think anything of it.”
The team was dropped off on the LZ and split into two groups for the flight, one team staging to the north, the other to the south. Because aircraft wasn’t expected to land for several hours, the teams took a tactical pause to adjust their gear. It wasn’t until dark settled over the LZ that they came under attack.
“It’s funny that I heard (it) because we were a fair good distance away, but it was clear as day. I heard, ‘What the (expletive),’ and it almost sounded like a flash bang went off, and then just rapid fire,” said the CSO.
A rogue shooter had fired an M203 round into the LZ before circling around firing off an automatic weapon into the groups of gathered Raiders and commandos.
“I immediately hit the deck, I thought Sal is right next to me. He wasn’t,” said the CSO. “I don’t think he even hit the ground, I think he just ran.”
Salabarria had grabbed his medical kit and taken off running toward the center of the LZ where someone was yelling in pain. He explained that the only thing visible were muzzle flashes and the outlines of people, so he followed the cries for help. Salabarria first came across the foreign interpreter who then directed him to the team SARC. The senior medic had been struck by rapid fire in his arm and leg, shattering the upper part of his shin bone.
“I checked him over real quick, and that’s when I noticed that we were directly getting shot at,” said Salabarria. “At that point, I laid on top of (the team SARC), told him not to move, and I shot at (the shooter) until he went down.”
“Stories go, that other commandos were shooting, that our guys were shooting,” said the CSO. “But from my perspective, it was a gunfight between two people.”
For his “bold initiative, undaunted courage, and complete dedication to duty,” Maj Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, presented Salabarria with the Silver Star Medal. He was joined by Surgeon General Vice Adm. C. Forrest Faison III, and teammates from 2nd Marine Raider Battalion.
“I think anybody on that team, given the opportunity, would have done the same thing. It just happened to be me that did it,” said Salabarria.
Sergeant Charles Strong lost his life during this attack. His family attended the ceremony as guests of honor, along with the family of Capt. Stanford H. Shaw III, who was a part of the “Raider 7” lost in March 2015, in a helicopter crash off the coast of Florida. Shaw was the officer who first submitted Salabarria for the award.
“(This medal) is more for Capt. Shaw and Sgt. Strong than anything,” said Salabarria. “It’s all for them.”
USMC Sergeant Charles C. Strong. 15 SEP 2014. Died in Herat Province, Afghanistan of wounds suffered in an insider attack. Strong was assigned to 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, out of Camp Lejeune, NC.
AFGHANISTAN. Herat Province. Near Herat. August 30, 1989. After the Soviet withdrawal. On a ruined fortress a young man, formerly fighting for the Muslim guerrillas, but now on the payroll of the Afghan government, manes a weapon as cattle peacefully make their way to water in the background.
SOLDIER STORIES: Celebrating the life of a Viking Raider.
The battlefield cross for fallen Raiders was displayed at the Celebration of Life ceremony remembering retired Master Sgt. Eden M. Pearl, at the Base Theater aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., Feb. 19, 2016. Master Sergeant Eden M. Pearl deployed with Fox Company, 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, to Herat Province, Afghanistan, in 2009. His identification tags will be added to those of other fallen Raiders and displayed at U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command headquarters building aboard Stone Bay, N.C.
(Combat images are courtesy photos dated MAY 2009. Other photos by Sergeant Donovan Lee, 19 FEB 2016. Article by Sergeant Lia Gamero, 19 FEB 2016.)
During a Celebration of Life ceremony, family, friends and fellow Raiders gathered to honor the life and legacy of retired Master Sgt. Eden M. Pearl, at the Base Theater aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., Feb. 19, 2016. Master Sgt. Pearl succumbed to his wounds on Dec. 20, 2015, more than six years after his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device while deployed to Herat Province, Afghanistan in 2009.
“He was one of those guys the Marines tell stories about in the Marine Corps, so I couldn’t wait to meet (him)” said Phillip Noblin, who met Pearl in 2002, when Pearl was his team leader at 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company, II Marine Expeditionary Force. “Just off the stories, I had built up this picture of this battle-ax swinging Viking of a beast of a man.”
By 2002, Pearl had already built himself a reputation as a force to be reckoned with in the reconnaissance community. He had deployed with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, completed Amphibious Reconnaissance School, Scout Sniper School, and the Rigid-hull Inflatable Boat Coxswain’s Course.
“He was a very consummate professional, and commanded respect everywhere he went,” said Noblin, who described Pearl as a leader who always took the time to teach and train younger Marines. “(On his team) you always wanted to make sure you did the right thing because Eden was your team leader and you didn’t want to let him down.”
Pearl completed four more deployments with II MEF, in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom I and Iraqi Freedom II. It was shortly before his fifth deployment that Pearl was introduced to his wife, Alicia, a U.S. Navy corpsman stationed in Virginia. After a long-distance relationship, the two received orders to deploy with the same unit, but two months from deployment, Alicia found out she was expecting.
“He had a plan, to be together for some time, engaged for some time,” said Alicia, “but we both knew we were right for each other and we wanted to be together, so he was just so excited when he found out.”
The couple married days before his deployment and their daughter was born just two weeks before his return in 2005.
“(She) was his joy,” said Don Hoemann, long-time friend of Pearl. “He had this carrier that he bragged about continuously and did so much in-depth research on, and he’d carry her absolutely everywhere. He’d be up to his knees in muck, and she’d be on his back, hiking with him.”
In April 2005, Pearl then received orders to 2nd Special Operations Training Group, Special Missions Branch, as a Dynamic Assault/Entry Instructor.
“(When I arrived) Eden was kind of in charge over there, which was funny because on paper there was probably a (gunnery sergeant) over him,” said Noblin, founder of Brothers in Arms Foundation. “But he had that about him, you could be in a room with majors and captains, but if Eden was talking they were listening. He was the guy who had been there and knew all the skills, and at the time, that was with only 10 years in.”
Pearl was with the Special Missions Branch in 2006 when the unit was reassigned and re-designated at Marine Special Operations School (MSOS), U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command. At MSOS, Pearl was assigned as Lead Instructor and was integral in the development of the Individual Training Course (ITC).
An explosive ordinance disposal technician with 3rd Marine Raider Support Battalion, who met Pearl in 2006 described Pearl as a very intense individual.
“His reputation as a recon Marine was already legendary with all of us, so in a way it was hard not to be in some kind of ‘awe’ when you first met the guy,” said the EOD tech. In 2008, he was assigned to Marine Special Operations Team 8211, Fox Company, 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, with Pearl as his team chief. “Eden was (the team’s) anchor, our go-to guy with anything,” said the EOD tech. “We all would have followed him anywhere because we knew without a doubt that he would do the same for any of us.”
In 2009, MSOT 8211 deployed to Herat Province, Afghanistan. While on a routine convoy, Pearl’s team was ambushed and an IED was detonated directly under his vehicle. Two service members were ejected from the vehicle and survived, three others, including Pearl, were caught inside. Pearl was the only service member from inside the vehicle to survive.
“I don’t pray often, but that night I prayed it wasn’t one of our vehicles, and more specifically not his,” said the EOD tech. “As you can imagine, the entire team was caught pretty off guard to that kind of a blow; having that anchor, brother, leader and friend taken from you.”
Pearl suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 97 percent of his body. He was medically evacuated from country and only days later to Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, where he underwent multiple surgeries and skin grafts. After a couple of months, Pearl had a severe stroke that put him into a temporary vegetative state, but after 16 months he was transferred to a facility in Florida, that catered to his cognitive care needs.
In 2013, the Brothers in Arms Foundation, together with the Gary Sinise Foundation, helped build a home in San Antonio that was accessible to care for Pearl in a home setting.
“I don’t think most people would have survived those initial injuries to begin with and the fact that he made it out of (Brook Army Medical Center) after 16 months is amazing, and the fact that he was even able to come home and spend more time with us here, is kind of miraculous,” said Alicia. “He truly was an incredible man, father and husband.”
Pearl’s wounds and recovery not only led to the development of multiple medicines but also several procedures that will help future burn victims. His survival was the leading factor for the Brothers in Arms foundation, which continues to support wounded and fallen special operations Marines. Alicia and Hoemann attribute his survival to his ceaseless warrior spirit. “(Eden) was the epitome of a fighter, he was not going to give up,” said Hoemann. “Even with family and work it wasn’t an option to give up and not give 110 percent. He fought every day … for what he thought was best for his Marines and his family.”
Pearl was retired in September 2014, where he continued to live in San Antonio with his family, until his passing on Dec. 20, 2015. He is survived by his wife Alicia, daughter Avery, and a community of Raiders with an example to live up to.
“I only wish that more guys coming up through MARSOC could have been influenced by him,” said the EOD tech. “(Eden) was a full package deal that could do it all. I will never forget the moments that I had with him, to know him, and have the honor to work beside him.”
Afghan women are transported in the back of a three
wheeled motorbike after receiving a sack of flour each, donated by the
women’s affairs department, in the Gozara district, Herat province, west
of Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 26, 2012. The women’s affairs department of
Herat province donated a sack of flour to around 250 families in the
A U.S. Army Private first class with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, pulls security at one of the entry points to the U.S. Consulate Herat in Herat province, Afghanistan, Sept. 15, 2013.
AFGHANISTAN. Herat Province. Near Herat. February 15, 1980. Three Muslim rebels, one armed with a Soviet-made AK-47 assault rifle, left, the others with older bolt-action rifles, pose on horseback during a rebel meeting at a village. Despite the presence of Soviet and Afghan government troops in the area, the rebels patrolled the mountain ranges along the Afghan-Iran border.
AFGHANISTAN. Herat Province. Herat. August 2015. Afghan soldiers dance during a ceremony to mark Independence Day. Afghanistan is celebrating the 96th anniversary of its independence from British rule.
An Afghanistan National Army (ANA) soldier fires his weapon at the site of a clash between insurgents and security forces at the Indian Consulate in Herat, Afghanistan, Friday, May 23, 2014. Gunmen armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the Indian Consulate in western Afghanistan’s Herat province Friday, an assault that injured no diplomatic staff, police said. Indian officials said there had been a threat against its diplomats in Afghanistan, but gave no other details. (AP Photo/Hoshang Hashimi)
US Army Command Sergeant Major Martin R. Barreras. 13 MAY 2014.
Died in the San Antonio Military Medical Center at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, of wounds inflicted by small arms fire on 6 May in Herat Province, Afghanistan, when enemy forces attacked his unit. Barreras was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division out of Fort Bliss, Texas.