Major Receives Bronze Star For Actions in Iraqi Freedom
Discussion Board on this Respect item
PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- When Marine Maj. Neal F. Pugliese thinks about the events that led to him being awarded a Bronze Star Medal, it's not his personal accomplishments that come to mind.
What he sees is a Bronze Star reflecting the actions of a team - the entire 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) and the Marine Corps as a whole.
Pugliese, the anti-terrorism force protection officer for Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and Eastern Recruiting Region, was presented with the Bronze Star with a combat "V" device here Feb. 4. The award was for actions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as executive officer of Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines of the 15th MEU (SOC) .
Pugliese served as executive officer of the BLT in March and April 2003, encountering many challenges and obstacles.
"First and foremost, Marines don't take awards lightly," said Col. Michael Malachowsky, Depot chief of staff. "We don't hand them out to just anyone. For him to get the Bronze Star with combat 'V' is quite an accomplishment. Not many Marines are walking around with awards for combat valor."
Pugliese felt the honor was a direct representation of the efforts of all involved. "I am humbled by this award," he said. "I think that there are others that are certainly more deserving than I am, and I hope that they get recognized."
According to the Bronze Star Medal citation, "His coolness, demeanor, and aggressive spirit were inspirational and directly influenced the outcome of each action."
One such action was on Mar. 21 after he led troops to seize the Iraqi police headquarters and United Nations compound. The Maritime Special Purpose Force came under 82mm mortar fire from elements of the Iraqi 45th Infantry Brigade. The intensity and duration required the forces to fall back, consolidate and return fire to silence the Iraqi threat. He then rallied his men and personally led the attack taking the assigned objective.
Pugliese adamantly defers any credit bestowed on him as only a reflection of the team of which he was a member.
"I am not great, the Marines around me are great," he said. "The Marines around me made me look good. I don't have any special qualities. I don't have any special formula. Don't look at me as an individual, look at me as part of a team, and the other part of that team is the Marines."
That team effort was evenly distributed throughout the 15th MEU, from its leadership all the way down to its junior Marines.
"We had fantastic leadership over there," he said. "We were led by an absolutely superb officer. Brigadier General Thomas D. Waldhauser provided us with superb common-sense leadership as the MEU commander. Lieutenant Colonel Alvah Ingersoll provided us with phenomenal leadership at the BLT level. All of the folks who supported us logistically, the MSSG, created the conditions that allowed us to continue with our operations."
Pugliese is quick to place the credit on the shoulders of those he served with, as well as those who trained the Marines he served with.
"It is a testament to our Marines and how we train them," he said. "The Marines did an absolutely fantastic job, despite the numbers. We don't train our people to become overwhelmed. In the Marines we have a saying, 'We don't get overwhelmed. We eat that elephant one bite at a time.'"
Anyone can become overwhelmed when they are not trained properly. That is exactly what Pugliese believes is the key to troop welfare.
"Years ago, I had several conversations with some absolutely outstanding sergeants major," said Pugliese. "We were talking about welfare of the troops. Welfare of the troops to some people is getting them food, water, sleep and pay. The sergeants major that I talked to said, 'Welfare for the troops is making sure that you train them hard so that when you get into these shooting situations you can bring everybody home.' That's the best thing you can do - train them hard. If you work them hard, you are preparing them."
What is best for Marines in Pugliese's eyes is the continuation of time-tested methods.
"We need to continue to train our Marines to have initiative, aggressiveness and be bold. If we can instill that, that's 90 percent of the fight right there," he said.
Pugliese left Iraq with more than a medal. He came out of the experience with an admiration for the job that Marines do.
"What was most rewarding was seeing the Marines be able to conduct what we call a three-block war," he said. "We had the Marines who would be involved in some action, and the next block over, they are doing work to rebuild schools."
"The next block over, they are handing out humanitarian aid, and then, the next block over, they are conducting a patrol," he said.
"These Marines were able to shift back and forth between hostilities and humanitarian work, which showed an incredible amount of flexibility and agility," added Pugliese.
Although Pugliese gives credit to the Marines of the 15th MEU, he felt a need to give attention to those Marines who are now going to Iraq in support of OIF II.
"The folks who really need our support right now are those Marines who are heading out for a second time to Iraq," he said. "I have no doubt that they are going to do absolutely fantastic work."