MARINE OF THE WEEK // “I was only worried about my Marines and their safety.”
Sgt. Willie L. Copeland, III
Team leader, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF).
Operation Iraqi Freedom
April 7, 2004
Award: Navy Cross
Tasked as the Main Effort to lead a convoy to a Forward Operating Base, Sergeant Copeland’s platoon was ambushed by 40 – 60 insurgents in well-fortified and concealed positions near the province of Al Anbar. After observing a rocket-propelled grenade instantly crippling the lead vehicle and having mortar and machinegun fire disable his own, Sergeant Copeland led five Marines out of the heaviest zone under attack and made an assault across an open field. They continued the assault across a deep and muddy canal, working their way up to firing positions on the far side within hand grenade range of the enemy. The vigor of this first assault eliminated ten insurgents at close range while forcing other enemy positions to flee. During this valiant effort, his commanding officer fell wounded at his side. Unwilling to subject any more Marines to danger, he signaled others to remain in covered positions. While placing himself in a position to shield his wounded officer, he applied first aid. Without regard for his own personal safety, Sergeant Copeland stabilized, then evacuated his Captain to a safe area. He then conducted the withdrawal of his team from their covered positions through the use of hand grenades. By his bold leadership, wise judgment, and complete dedication to duty, Sergeant Copeland reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.