MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER, TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
When Petty Officer 1st Class Wil Morales, the line corpsman for Company F, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, would hear someone yelling “Corpsman Up” during their recent deployment to Afghanistan, he never hesitated.
It was his courageousness and decisive life-saving action while in Afghanistan that recently earned him a Bronze Star Medal with a “Combat V.”
He said he was just doing his job. ‘Just doing his job’ on one occasion meant saving the life of Lt. Col. David Richmond, the Battle Group Northwest commander with 5th Battalion, Royal Scots, which is part of the British Army.
On June 18, Morales was with the Marines of Co. F as they prepared to set up a locking position to flush out Taliban insurgents in the town of Kats-Sharbat, Afghanistan.
Working with U.K. troops, Afghan National Army and local police, the company flanked the town. As Morales and his team entered the city, they began taking small-arms, machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire.
Staff Sgt. Eric Hillis, a platoon sergeant for Weapons Company who was attached to Co. F, said the battle lasted four hours as each group moved forward slowly, clearing the town building by building.
“All the fire was on us,” said Hillis, a Carrollton, Ill., native. “The British and the Afghans barely received any as they moved into the town.”
As the battle reached the four-hour mark, the fighting lulled, and Richmond moved toward the Marines’ position.
“He was toward the front of the group,” said Morales, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native. “While I was watching, I saw him drop to the ground and heard someone calling ‘Doc.’”
Morales stopped engaging the enemy and exposed himself to their fire by low-crawling 30 meters toward the fallen commander.
“I just remember telling myself to stay low,” the 32-year-old said. “I didn’t feel any fear because of the adrenaline rush. I was running on pure instinct.”
Cpl. Serjio Rolon, an assaultman with the company, reached the commander first and began dragging him toward Morales, meeting him halfway in the exposed area. The two men then dragged Richmond to safety. Morales assessed Richmond’s injuries; the commander had been shot and the round had splintered the bone.
“When I checked, I saw there was a big bullet hole in his leg,” Morales said. “His leg began to swell like a balloon and I knew blood was pooling in the cavity.”
To stop the bleeding, Morales applied a tourniquet on the commander’s upper thigh. When that only slowed the bleeding, he applied a second one as a pressure dressing.
“I realized he had no support in his leg after I stopped the bleeding,” Morales said. “When you moved his leg, it was like rubber. That’s when I realized the bullet had shattered his femur bone.”
Morales low-crawled back to where he helped rescue the wounded commander while still taking fire. He collected fallen tree branches to use as a splint for the commander’s broken leg.
Although it only took 10 minutes for Morales to save the commander’s life, he said it felt like an eternity.
“After I got him stabilized we moved him even further back and called in for a medevac [medical evacuation],” he said.
After saving the commander’s life, Morales returned to Co. F and continued to provide medical support throughout the rest of the firefight.
“When I went back, I had to treat two more Marines,” Morales said. “One Marine had taken shrapnel to the arm, and the second had become a heat casualty.”
Hillis said Morales’ dedication to duty displayed during the firefight was just one example of why he was a necessity to their company’s welfare throughout the deployment.
“HM1 Morales was instrumental to many of the guys who were injured,” he said. “He is the reason why many of the wounded Marines were able to go home with all their body parts instead as amputees. He knew how to react and when to react when a situation came up.”
Rolon also said Morales had immense dedication to his job and to his Marines.
“He was our ‘doc,’ and we were never worried about being shot because he was there,” he said. “He also made sure his corpsmen were properly trained in case he wasn’t there.”
When Morales was treating a patient at the forward operating base, he would ensure every available corpsmen he worked with was there so he could teach them how to treat different types of wounds and illnesses.
“He gave the Marines faith in the other corpsman, even if they were on their first deployment,” Hillis said. “The Britons always wanted him to go to their side of the camp and treat their wounded and ill.
“You didn’t hear the guys worrying about getting wounded,” he said. “Normally halfway through a deployment the guys begin to get more worried about being shot. With Morales here they were able to focus on our mission.”
For five months of their eight-month deployment, the Marines and sailors of Co. F did not have electricity and had to shower with plastic bags full of water. Hillis said they were dirty all the time, but somehow Morales ensured every Marine was practicing good hygiene and drinking clean water. Morales also had passed out hand sanitizers to all the Marines to help keep them germ free.
“We shared our camp with the British,” Hillis said. “They were losing manpower from all the illnesses they got from drinking the water. We barely had a fraction of that because Morales was keeping us healthy.”
Rolon agreed with Hillis, saying their company never had a Marine miss a patrol due to sickness.
Morales had also extended his expertise and warm heart to the locals, including a young Afghanistan boy who had been severely injured by an unexploded mortar round.
“This young boy found this cracked round and decided to put a lit match in it,” Hillis said. “The round exploded and gave him third degree burns on his face, chest and arm.”
The boy was told he would never have use of his hand again. Morales spoke to the family through a translator, and instructed the boy’s father to bring his son in every day for treatment.
Rolon said every day Morales would change his dressing and treat the burns for the little boy.
“By the time we were preparing to go back home, the boy’s face was healing and he was getting pigment back and he was able to use his hand,” he said.
Morales went above and beyond to not only treat his Marines, but also his British comrades and the local Afghan community; making the war zone a better place not only for those who came across his medical table, but simply, anyone who came across him.