Camp Pendleton, Calif. --
1st Sgt. Anthony J. Velarde, the first sergeant with 1st Civil Affairs Group, Force Headquarters Group, Marine Forces Reserve, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with combat distinguishing device during a ceremony here, March 11.
Velarde was recognized for his actions during combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The first sergeant, at the time a company gunnery sergeant with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (known as the Blackhearts), demonstrated acts of heroism during an eight-hour firefight near a town of Kashta Jelijay, March 22, 2012.
“This award is for the company. It’s really for the Blackhearts,” said Velarde, a native of Baldwin Park, Calif. “It was a company effort because we were out there hooking and jabbing all night and day. I am always going to be proud to wear that for the company.”
While overseeing the operation from a command operating center as a senior tactical advisor, Velarde received reports of roadside bombs and two pinned-down Marine platoons, he quickly assembled and led a small reaction force to assist the Marines.
“I was in the COC and I heard that my boys were in trouble down there,” said Velarde. “It was eating me up that they needed help. I just needed to get out there and make sure they all got back safely.”
Driving seven kilometers in off-road terrain, Velarde navigated to the battle site without knowledge of the terrain, said Capt. Travis R. Martin, Velarde’s company commander while deployed in Afghanistan.
Upon arrival he set up a security cordon and used his tactical skills to seize a piece of contested high-ground from the enemy, said Martin. When one of the platoons became pinned down again, he ordered his vehicle into the line of enemy fire to provide cover and regenerate forward momentum for a counter-attack. Velarde also redirected fire from other vehicles and effectively suppressed enemy machine gun and rocket teams. Finally, he enabled trapped units to withdraw by directing mortar fire to wrestle off the insurgents.
Martin, currently the commanding officer of Headquarters and Service Company, 2/25, said he would seek Velarde to have at his side in combat anytime.
“Our (Marines) took the fight to the enemy with great credit to his force of will and constant energy towards the mission,” said Martin. “He worked himself ragged for the Marines of Fox Company. 1st Sgt. Velarde is my hero. “