NEW ORLEANS -- Maj. David Palka, the assistant battalion Inspector-Instructor with 5th Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, was awarded the Bronze Star with a combat distinguishing device at Camp Pendleton, California, May 1, 2017, in addition to the 2016 Leftwich Trophy at the Marine Corps Association and Foundation Ground Awards Dinner in Arlington, Virginia, May 4, 2017.
Palka received the Bronze Star and Leftwich Trophy for his heroic actions and exceptional leadership as a battery commander during Operation Inherent Resolve from 2015 to 2016.
“It’s humbling. I’m proud to receive it,” said Palka. “I don’t know if I’m entirely that comfortable with it just yet. I know it’s a big deal. But anybody who spends any time around my unit knows that it’s a reflection of that battery of Marines.”
The Bronze Star is awarded to those who demonstrate heroic achievements and service while in a combat zone. The Leftwich Trophy is given for outstanding leadership and is presented annually to Marine captains in the ground combat element serving on active duty.
Under Palka’s leadership and coordination, Battery E and Task Force Spartan executed 67 days of sustained combat operations in austere conditions, providing fire support to Kurdish Peshmerga Forces and Iraqi Security Forces, becoming the first general purpose U.S. combat troops to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on the battlefield.
On March 21, 2016, Fire Base Bell came under attack by enemies with small arms weapons, machine guns, grenades and suicide vests. During the three-hour engagement, Palka commanded the fire direction of his battery’s four M777A2 Howitzers. Utilizing radio reports of the enemy’s movements from the fire base’s security positions, he located and plotted targets for his own guns to fire illumination on the edge of the perimeter in order to disrupt movement of enemy fighters.
With the aid of continuous illumination, perimeter security personnel engaged the enemy with small arms weapons and machine guns. Their coordinated effort resulted in the destruction of the enemy force and zero friendly casualties.
“Palka hovered over the Marines to shield them when they would run to the bunkers without their flak jackets and kevlars,” said 1st Sgt. Allen E. Smith, the first sergeant of Battery E, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. “He always located the direction of the attack, moved to exposed positions and rushed to the Command Operation Center to communicate with the Combat Joint Operations Center.”
Palka led his battery ashore and established an austere firebase in northern Iraq in support of ground combat maneuver forces. His battery conducted 476 fire missions and fired 2,061 rounds of 155mm ammunition while employing the Precision Guidance Kit.
During OIR, Palka served as the commanding officer for Battery E, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Division, which was the first Marine Corps artillery unit in history to execute a primary artillery mission as the main effort off of a MEU. The battery was also the first unit to have the opportunity to fire the PGK fuse. At that time no other Marine artillery unit had deployed with this equipment.
Palka demonstrated mastery of artillery operations and a keen ability to lead Marines in combat against the enemy. The recognition he received for his selfless actions and relentless resolve personifies the valor associated with the distinguished recipients of the past.