PITTSBURGH - It's not every day that a National Guard sergeant receives a Silver Star for actions performed as a Marine.
But that's exactly what happened Dec. 10 in Pittsburgh.
Sgt. David M. Gerardi, a weapons sergeant with the Army National Guard’s 19th Special Forces Group, received the nation’s third-highest medal for his actions while deployed in 2011 as an active duty Marine with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), II Marine Expeditionary Force.
Gerardi, whose warrant reads like a script from a movie production, humbly accepted his Silver Star in front of a small group of family, friends and Marines from 3rd Recon Battalion.
He credits his fellow recon Marines for his heroic actions.
"I know the award talks about me a lot, but those guys did more to bring me home than I could ever do for them," Gerardi said of his brothers-in-arms as tears welled in his eyes. "I have been honored to serve with the best Marines and Soldiers." He choked up when answering questions about the day for which he was being recognized.
It was June 6, 2011, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Gerardis, a corporal at the time, and team mates were providing security near Balozai village when they came under fire. They were pinned down in a canal, receiving fire from several enemy positions a little more than 100 yards distant.
Gerardi identified a firing position at a mud wall forward of the team that would give him a clear line of sight to the enemy position presenting the greatest danger to his team. Without hesitation, he crossed an open field to get to a wall less than 45 yards from the enemy. He was greeted with a volley of rocket-propelled and 30 mm grenades as well as medium machine gun fire that prevented him from returning fire.
Despite the intense fire, he maneuvered to a more vulnerable position along another wall that afforded a better angle for him to fire on the enemy. Despite rounds striking within inches of his body, Gerardi provided suppressive fire, which allowed his Marines to extract a wounded Afghan soldier.
"The training kicked in," Gerardi said." Going to that position just made sense. That way, I wasn’t conflicting with the other guys’ line of fire."
Gerardi continued to coordinate with other Marines on the ground to provide suppressive fire despite the chaos of enemy fire continually hitting around him.
Throughout the five-hour engagement, Gerardi showed "stalwart determination and vigilance" while provided precision fire thereby allowing his team to extract after nightfall, according to his Silver Star citation.
"Because of his dedication and superior knowledge, he was able to accurately engage," said Cpl. Josh Davenport, a recon Marine who served with Gerardi.
"He wasn’t just shooting blindly or because he was scared," Davenport said. "He was saying, ‘I’m going to do this job better than anyone else,’ and he did. For that reason, he got the Silver Star. He was braver and more dedicated. He definitely earned it."
Maj. Gen. Melvin Spiese, commanding general of 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade, presented the medal to Gerardi. Spiese said Gerardi was a testament to his generation.
"He proved himself to be an astute and courageous tactical fighter that day, and his heroic and selfless actions under fire saved the lives of his fellow Marines, turned the tide in an intense firefight and was an inspiration for those serving with him," Spiese said.
"Sergeant Gerardi choose to serve his country in a time of war and to do so as an infantryman and reconnaissance Marine. He, like every other Marine on the battlefield, could have chosen to do something different other than accept the responsibility for the security of their country as a U.S. Marine," he said.
Gerardi’s parents attested to his passion for the military. They said they never doubted their son’s tenacity." We always knew he’d grow up to do something amazing," said Gerardi’s father Michael. "I’m just happy he’s home. I’m so proud of him."
When Gerardi completed his enlistment with the Marine Corps this year, he transferred to the Army National Guard to pursue a new challenge to become a Green Beret.
Though Gerardi has left the Corps, his impact on the Marines who served with him will last a lifetime." He’s an example to all of us in our community," Davenport said. "One of the biggest things we take from him is his heart. He puts everything into it. He brings guys together.
"You can feel the sense of pride that he has in the job that he does, and he’s definitely one of the best."