MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Marines with 1st Tank Battalion were recognized for their heroism, sacrifice and dedication to duty with two Navy and Marine Corps Medals, a Bronze Star with combat-distinguishing device and a Purple Heart Medal at the unit’s tank ramp, Jan. 21, 2014.
Maj. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general, 1st Marine Division, presented Navy and Marine Corps Medals to Cpl. Matthew Gonzales, tank crewman, Company A, 1st Tanks, and Sgt. Asturo Zavala Jr., tank gunner, Co. A, 1st Tanks. Nicholson also presented a Bronze Star to Capt. Christopher Ashinhurst, company commander, Company D, 1st Tanks, and finished with a Purple Heart to Sgt. Fredy Esquivel, tank crewman, Company C, 1st Tanks.
“Earning these awards is really a team effort,” Nicholson said. “Nobody earns a combat medal for what they did alone. They got it because the team did it. When you wear that personal medal, you’re wearing it because your team helped you get it.”
Gonzales and Zavala were awarded their medals for their actions in Afghanistan on Feb. 25, 2012. The two Marines, while crossing a small, flooded area during a combat patrol, sunk more than eight feet in their tank. After evacuating the vehicle, they realized their driver was still trapped inside. They both dove into the water to free the trapped Cpl. Gary Ettinger, saving his life.
Ashinhurst was awarded the Bronze Star with combat-distinguishing device for his heroic actions while deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from Jan. 2 to July 20, 2013. He displayed extraordinary leadership and courageously led his company in direct combat against enemy forces.
“It’s an important medal because the Marines of Delta Company were here to see me get it,” Ashinhurst said. “They are truly the reason why I’m receiving this award today. They were at their best when we were in the worst for the whole seven months. To be here with them today is truly an honor.”
Esquivel was awarded the Purple Heart Medal for injuries he sustained while deployed to Afghanistan in 2012.
The men were honored in front of their battalion. They gathered in a school circle around Nicholson and listened to the readings of the citations and the major general’s remarks about the Marines of 1st Tanks.
“It truly is a family event today and I’m glad we got to put it on,” Nicholson said. “It’s important that I got to participate today because these are combat awards. Nobody joins in a time of war and not think they’re going into the fight. These four Marines all have multiple combat deployments and I know they’re actions reflect what’s going on in this battalion.”