CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. -- “I thought I was going to die,” Staff Sgt. Alec Haralovich pondered as he lay on his back in Afghanistan.
Taliban fighters had just ambushed his patrol of dismounted Marines with automatic gunfire. The enemy’s aim was accurate. Two bullets struck his body armor with such force that he was knocked backward into the dirt.
Haralovich didn’t let his fears get the best of him though. He had survived two other combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. As a reconnaissance Marine who knows how to treat his own wounds, Haralovich applied pressure to his side while he checked for bleeding.
There was no blood.
Leading up to the attack, Haralovich had seen all the signs. It was quiet as they patrolled Ghorah -- a village that was usually filled with people.
“As we were pushing through we were all feeling confident like we were going to get a drop on these guys,” thought Haralovich. “They’re not going to have anywhere to run to.”
He was wrong. The insurgents set up a complex ambush that lured his Marines into a death trap.
“I was really angry,” he recalled. “I was angry because it basically was like they had duped us, they had out maneuvered us, outsmarted us.”
Immediately after Haralovich was hit, Cpl. Matthew Chen, a combat medic bounded forward to treat who he thought was critically wounded. However, assured that he had taken rounds only to his armor, Haralovich yelled at Chen to get back.
As Chen was returning, he was wounded in the leg, with a minor grazing wound from an enemy bullet.
Seeing the injured medic, Haralovich grew even more emboldened.
“That’s when I was like, time for the rocket shot,” he said. “It’s time to end this now.”
He yelled for a Marine to bring him the M72 Light Anti-Tank Weapon, a rocket launcher that can deliver a warhead thousands of feet and penetrate more than 8 inches of steel.
He knew this weapon well. He trained extensively with it on active duty before he became a reconnaissance man in the Reserves.
Haralovich and his team sprinted forward through an open field, headed directly toward their attackers, while two of his Marines were sending rounds steadily at the enemy.
Haralovich armed his rocket launcher. He knew he had to hurry because the two Marines shooting were laying prone, with less than one foot of cover.
“Running out with a prepped LAW on your shoulder, you’re definitely a target, I realized like halfway into the field,” Haralovich remembered. “I had to basically hurry up, take the shot.”
The explosion blew up the enemy stronghold and caused all of the attackers to cease fire and retreat. But Haralovich and the Marines weren’t finished. He wasn’t just going to let insurgents attack them.
Haralovich then tried to contact the other Marine team, but couldn’t. One of the rounds that struck his armor also destroyed his radio.
He had to find, and link up with his other patrol element.
After making contact, both elements patrolled forward as a stronger, combined unit.
“We knew there was an enemy command and control element that was well known within the region that was near this mosque, so we pushed to the north,” Haralovich said. “We pushed toward that area, ran into a couple more fighters. They were surprised to see us; they took off.”
After hours of additional patrolling, and the insurgents nowhere to be seen, Haralovich gathered his men and headed back to the patrol base. His company commander, Capt. Jonathan Joseph, said he had to convince him to rest after he had returned.
After returning from deployment, Haralovich eventually left active duty, but continues to serve with the 4th Reconnaissance Battalion. During his assignment with the Marine Forces Reserve, the process to award Haralovich for his heroism was completed.
Maj. Gen. James M. Lariviere, the 4th Marine Division Commanding General presented Haralovich the Silver Star Medal for gallantry in combat. Awarding the nation’s third highest award for combat heroism took place at Camp Atterbury, near Haralovich's hometown of Bloomington, Ind.
More than 100 Marines, sailors, soldiers, family and friends attended the event.
This was the same place where his grandfather, an Army veteran, was stationed before serving in WWII and on D-Day in 1944. It made for a historical occasion for Haralovich and his family who attended the ceremony.
“I’d have to say that he’s made me extremely proud,” said Peter Haralovich, Alec’s uncle. “We followed his three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and communicated with him regularly by satellite phone and email. We’ve experienced the stress that any family experiences. And of course we’re relieved that he’s healthy and in one piece and looking forward to the rest of his career in the United States military.”
“I couldn’t be prouder,” said Capt. Joseph. “Not just because he got the award. What he did that day; he did that countless other times. It wasn’t just an isolated incident. He did that every day. He was by far the best team leader I have ever had.”
According to his uncle, heroics run in the family. Haralovichs’ have fought as Marines in the Pacific and executed bombing missions as soldiers in Germany during World War II. Haralovich now adds a new daring chapter to his family’s long legacy of war fighters who have lived for something greater themselves.