MANCHESTER, N.H. — Donna Ouellette said she lived the most bittersweet moment of her life when she accepted her son’s Navy Cross on his behalf.
Donna is the mother of Cpl. Michael W. Ouellette, a Marine who was killed in action during combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 22, 2009. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus presented Donna the medal during a ceremony Nov. 10, conducted by Marines with 2nd Marine Division at the Marine Reserve Support Center in Manchester, N.H., Ouellette’s hometown.
Cpl. Ouellette, a Marine of four years, was remembered by his family as living an eventful life and for leaving a lasting impression with every Marine with whom he interacted.
“He is our legend at Lima Company,” said his fellow Marine, Sgt. Stephen Porter. “He left us with a legacy to tell and follow.”
Cpl. Ouellette was serving as a squad leader with Company L, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, in the Now Zad district of Helmand province. While on a foot patrol with his squad, an improvised explosive device detonated directly underneath him. The explosion severed his left leg and peppered him with shrapnel. Most of the Marines in the patrol were knocked over and stunned, but Lance Cpl. Jesse Raper, who was a junior Marine in the squad, quickly came to Cpl. Ouellette’s aid.
After Raper placed a tourniquet on Cpl. Ouellette and dragged him out of the explosion crater, Cpl. Ouellette immediately assessed the situation and began to direct his Marines to provide security for their position. The IED explosion stemmed into an ambush, and Taliban forces began moving in and firing upon the squad’s position.
As leader of the squad and senior Marine in the patrol, Cpl. Ouellette directed fire from his riflemen to thwart the Taliban’s attack. Though he was bleeding severely and being treated by corpsman Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Nolen, Cpl. Ouellette continued to motivate his Marines to keep bringing their fight to the enemy combatants, who were just meters away attempting to envelop the Marines’ position.
Cpl. Ouellette then reported the attack and requested reinforcements over a radio transmission to the company’s headquarters. A friend of Cpl. Ouellette, Sgt. Randy Moffett, described Cpl. Ouellette’s tone as calm and direct.
Marine Corps AH-1 Cobra helicopters arrived on scene moments after Cpl. Ouellette’s request and delivered a precise and accurate attack of firepower to the Taliban fighters who were danger-close to the Marines. Cpl. Ouellette continued to direct close air support from his radio.
When describing the helicopter air support, Raper said the Taliban met with their fate, “it wasn’t a good day for them [after the Cobras arrived].”
The expertly-applied fire from the Marines on the ground and in the air soon became the demise of the Taliban’s attack.
Cpl. Ouellette never submitted his charge of the squad during the firefight and only relinquished when his Marines were met with reinforcements and began to return to their base – an act deemed courageous in the Marine Corps and badass, according to Marines on that patrol. Ouellette was evacuated by ambulance where he lost consciousness and succumbed to his wounds while en route to the base. He was 28 years old.
“The part he played for this ambush was phenomenal and incredible … and seriously heroic,” said Moffett.
For his conspicuous gallantry, bold leadership, wise judgment, and complete dedication to duty, Cpl. Ouellette was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the highest award presented by the Department of the Navy and the military’s second highest award for valor next to the Medal of Honor.
“[Cpl. Ouellette] is a Marine who in the true spirit of the Corps, gave his life to make sure his Marines lived,” said Mabus, just moments before he handed the Navy Cross medal to Donna.
Cpl. Ouellette’s good friends and fellow Marines agreed; Cpl. Ouellette’s priorities as a leader were the welfare of his Marines and their proficiency at their job.
“I’ll be damned if his sacrifices ever die,” said Porter, who provided mortar fire to the enemy’s position during the firefight. “I will always speak highly of that man because of the way he went down.”
Cpl. Ouellette was well-known for his stoic facades, yet raw sense of humor and philosophical discussions amongst his Marines. An imposing force at 6-foot 1-inch tall, weighing roughly 190 pounds and “solid,” his presence was felt through intimidation at times, though his junior Marines, peers and seniors altogether describe as very respectful.
“Every little thing we did, Cpl. Ouellette insisted we to have a combat mindset,” said Raper. “Cpl. Ouellette made sure we were tough and never weak. He was hard, and we’re lucky for that. He was preparing us.”
The Navy Cross ceremony shared the day with the Marine Corps’ 235th birthday, an appropriate date to honor Cpl. Ouellette, said Mabus.
“The Corps has been defined by and always will be defined by its people; its Marines,” added Mabus. “It is for people like Cpl. Ouellette who make the Marine Corps the most professional fighting force the world has seen today.”
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