Marines ask: Why not more Presidential Unit Citations?


This image of 1st Sgt. Bradley Kasal illustrates the horrors Marines fought through in Fallujah, Iraq. The units involved have not been recognized with a Presidential Unit Citation for their actions there. (Photo by Lucian Read)

The decision to award the prestigious Presidential Unit Citation to 28,000 personnel who served under Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010 has led to a basic question from other Marines:

Why not us?

Marines, veterans and their family members are questioning online why troops who served in heavy combat in Iraq and Afghanistan outside the MEB’s deployment haven’t received a PUC, which is considered the unit-level equivalent to the Navy Cross. The only other PUC awarded to a Marine unit since 9/11 went to I Marine Expeditionary Force (Reinforced), for actions during and immediately after the initial invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

That leaves more than a decade worth of other deployments and battles at play, Marine Corps Times readers note. Fallujah 2004? Ramadi 2006? Afghanistan operations prior to spring 2009? They all fall outside the two PUCs now authorized.

I’ve asked the Marine Corps to provide details on how a PUC nomination is drawn up, studied and awarded. In the meantime, it’s worth looking at the basics, outlined in the Navy and Marine Corps Awards Manual:

— The PUC is awarded in the name of the U.S.president to units of the U.S.military and friendly foreign nations for “extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy,” the manual states. “The unit must have displayed such gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission, under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions, to have set it apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign. The degree of heroism requires is the same as that which would be required for award of a Navy Cross to an individual.”

— Recommendations must be submitted within three years of the date of the actions recognized, and the award must be made within five years.

—  Unit awards, according to the awards manual, are “restricted to the recognition of acts or services that clearly and distinctly, by nature and magnitude, place the unit’s performance significantly above that of other units performing similar missions. They are not intended to recognize individual actions, but rather to acknowledge the combined efforts of the organization.”

With that out of the way, let’s dive into the two PUCs awarded to Marine units since 9/11.

The first was issued to I MEF (Rein.), out of Camp Pendleton. It recognized actions from March 21 to April 24, 2003 — the early days after the invasion of Iraq through the fall of Baghdad.

As outlined in Marine administrative message 507/03, units authorized for that PUC include a variety of infantry units, engineer battalions and aviation squadrons that played a role in Nasiriyah, Al-Kut and other sites to early battles. Several Navy Crosses were subsequently awarded for heroics during that timeframe, including to Gunnery Sgt. Justin LeHew, Hospital Corpsman Luis Fonseca and 1st Lt. Brian Chontosh.

The more recent PUC, first reported on by Marine Corps Times last week, will recognize troops who served under MEB-Afghanistan from May 29, 2009, to April 12, 2010. A list of units authorized for it will be released in a forthcoming MARADMIN, but that timeframe corresponds directly with the time MEB-Afghanistan oversaw operations in Helmand.

Here are a few deployments and battles of note in Iraq and Afghanistan that don’t appear to fall under either PUC:

The battles of Fallujah

U.S. forces first attempted to capture the city of Fallujah in April 2004, more than a year after the timeframe for the first PUC expired. Operation Vigilant Resolve, as the mission was known, did not capture the city, but it did result in heavy sustained combat.

The second battle of Fallujah, Operation Phantom Fury, began Nov. 8, 2004. It extended through December, and became known as the bloodiest battle in the Iraq War.

There’s no shortage of individual Marine heroes in either battle. Examples in the first battle include Sgt. Willie Copeland and Capt. Brent Morel, who both were awarded the Navy Cross for actions April 7, 2004.

The second battle yielded Navy Crosses for 1st Sgt. Bradley Kasal, Cpl. Robert Mitchell, Sgt. Rafael Peralta, Sgt. Jarrett Kraft, Cpl. Jeremiah Workman and others. Peralta’s actions may still yet result in a Medal of Honor.

2/7 and the 24th MEU in Helmand

Before Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan deployed, it was the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., and 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, out of Twentynine Palms,Calif., that kicked in the door for Marine operations in Helmand province.

Combat was heavy at times for both units. In fact, 2/7 already has three Navy Crosses for individual heroism during that deployment: Pfc. Richard Weinmaster, Gunnery Sgt. Brian Blonder and Lance Cpl. Brady Gustafson. The battalion as a whole was responsible for territory spanning parts ofHelmand, Farah and Nimroz provinces, and demonstrated historic heroism during the Battle of Shewan.

The 24th MEU and 2/7 both returned to the U.S. before MEB-Afghanistan took over, however. In between those deployments, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, served as the main element of a special-purpose Marine air ground task force in Helmand. Marines with 3/8 were eventually absorbed into MEB-Afghanistan, meaning they’ll likely be authorized to wear the PUC.

Sangin operations

Without dispute, the area of Helmand that has received the most notoriety is Sangin. Third Battalion, 7th Marines, out of Twentynine Palms; and Third Battalion, 5th Marines, and 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, both out of Pendleton, sustained significant casualties and demonstrated great heroism there in 2010 and 2011.

Only 3/7 appears to have a shot at the PUC that has now been authorized, however. The unit deployed to Afghanistan in March 2010, meaning it overlaps with the tail end of the MEB’s time in command. Marines with 3/5 replaced 3/7 in Sangin later that year, and 1/5 swapped in for 3/5 in 2011.

To date, Sgt. Matthew Abbate from 3/5 has been posthumously authorized to receive the Navy Cross for heroism in Sangin. It wouldn’t be surprising to see others, especially in light of the everyday madness that 3/5 faced in fall 2010.


About Author

I'm a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.


  1. To make matters worse, both Army battalions involved in the second battle of Fallujah were given PUCs for their participation.

    Nine Navy Crosses and twenty-two Silver Stars were presented to participants of the fight. Read their stories in “New Dawn.”

  2. Frank Herbert on

    To make matters worse, I MEF submitted for a PUC for the timeframe that included the two Fallujah fights, but it was actually downgraded at HHQ to a NUC. Guess the Soldiers the street over fought harder than us. Someone should do some digging. What did the Marines earn during Hue City in ’68?

  3. Who cares were not in it for medals and ribbons remember, were doing it for the the poor poor Iraqi’s and Afghans,(isn’t that what everyone says)–LOL you want pat on the backs and medals and ada-boys go join the Coast Guard Air Force or the Army don’t expect shit from the Marine Corps don’t Marines know that by now!!!!

  4. By the time they get around to honoring anyone for heroic acts, they could have already been in on another operation and KIA. Very sad not to acknowledge them in a timely manner. However, some on here are right. Medals and ribbons are nice for others to look at and pass down through generations, but those that served know what went on and have a bond with their fellow Marines that cannot be measured by a medal or ribbon. I never saw my father’s medals/ribbons until after his death in ’96. 26 years active duty Marine Corps and 23 civil service working in Intelligence. I didn’t know him growing up but came to know him the last five years of his life.What I would give to sit and tlak and honor him for his service now. I had to look up his ribbons/medals after the fact and without him to tell me what they were. Now having my son in Sangin and seeing his buddies come home too soon, there are no ribbons/medals that could make me honor and acknowledge him anymore than I already do! He is a Untied States Marine….need I say more? The brotherhood amongst US Marines is like no other and if we stood around waiting for the White House to honor and acknowledge these units for their heroic measures, we will more than likely have already lost many of them in another battle yet to be acknowledged. Just appreciate them, thank them, love them and never stop honoring them; that’s the “right thing” to do.

  5. Jim McKendree on

    Without a doubt Marine 2/7 should have received the PUC and it was up for consideration with Mr. Obama deeming that their service and sacrifice of 250 casuaties in 7 months did not meet the criteria. Even today, this Battalion and their mission in Helmand Provice appears to be forgotten in proper recognition. This Battalion was sent on what appeard to be a moments notice without proper air support and other support typically afforded an expeditonary unit. If you don’t believe the air support was not there, just check it out. The 2/7 sustained 250 casualties during their deployment, 20 of which were KIA . I say the lack of recognition of this Battalion is a travesty. The recognition for having sent them into a meat grinder would go a long way in healing for lost fellow Marines and family members.

  6. As a veteran of Fallujah of Nov. 04, I can say it is sad to see the Army units that were in support to the grunts get a PUC and the guys kicking in doors are not awarded anything. Esprit de corps and moral is up to the Officers, SNCO’s, and NCO’s to ensure those tenets are fed and molded. Awards of any kind are just one of the tools we have to ensure those tenets are developed. Remember hearing of those Marines who get NAM’s for “stupid stuff”- it is our perception; we aren’t the ones who wrote or approved the award. That said it is our job to make sure those who are worthy are recognized. Yes it is not about medals and honors, but if they deserve it do not withhold it. I challenge anyone who was there to find a reason we should not have gotten a PUC. Additionally, 1stSgt Castle should have been put up for Medal of Honor not a Navy Cross.

    I also think that the 3 year rule needs to be adjusted, between 2003 and 2004 there were too many engagements that should have been looked at, but with operational tempo time elapsed before they could be looked at. I think it should be 3 years after the end of that Campaign. (ie the withdrawal of Iraq)

    Semper Fi

    Sgt Kurtz



  7. The Question is “what will the PUC entitle me? ” Absolutlely nothing! You aint the first and you won’t be the last. Stop being a ribbon chaser and enjoy the war stack you have. If you’re so concern about this award, stay in Marine Corp. Remember the Green machine doesn’t care how many you have as long your doing your job.

  8. I don’t think anyone should be making fun of the situation. In respect for those that gave their lives. The medals our military offers exist to be awarded for those that have gone forth and earned the achievement and recognition. That’s the purpose for their existence. Unfortunately there is a difference between use and abuse and many awards have been given undeservingly and I’ve also seen awards with held undeservingly due to personal grudges there’s two sides to every story and everyone knows someone from both sides of the story. Bottom line we realize and understand that what these units did was incredibly demanding and difficult and they performed their tasks with incredible perseverance in the face of a seriously dangerous and cunning enemy. They deserve the recognition, and as leaders in the military it’s part of our job to give recognition where it is due. Clearly these are such instances. I rest my case.

  9. Also for the people that are scrutinizing, what units were you with? do you not understand the difficulty of combat and how much it takes to react appropriately? trained well or not?

  10. If you were infantry, that speaks for itself. You know what you did, no need for the bling to make yourself look more important.

    Don’t you people think enough women and support units got way beyond what they really earned? Why make it more embarassing?

  11. BTW, I loved the gay pride medal idea… It could look like a bruised rectum bullseye. Simply delicious looking to all.

  12. Hey, MCT, why aren’t you progressive enough to give us all a tab for “gays in the military” under categories?

    What are you HOMOPHOBIC? I’m going to tell Obama on you.

  13. This is something that i thought was ridiculous too. Particularly when units attached to Marine units were given PUC’s for the same operations.

    The 3/5 for instance should have 4 PUC’s: 2003 Invasion, Fallujah, Ramadi, and Helmand. They got one with the rest of the 1st MEF and although most would say that’s meaningless, it does not seem right to not recognize when a unit has been at the center of the storm.

    Obviously they need to look back and start fixing this.

  14. I was a senior line corpsmen with Kilo 3/5 during Operation Phantom fury. I was discharged in Sep. 2005. Just two months ago I found out about the NUC for that operation and just today i am finding out about the campaign stars for the Iraq Campaign Medal. While reading through all the comments, I just cant help to think of the 9 men our unit lost during that fight. I am only trying to correct my service record and am not looking for the recognition. While a PUC would have been nice and equal to what the Army was award, I cant help but shrug my shoulders and say to myself that if our actions only rated a NUC it is only because Marines are held to a higher standard then the rest of the services.

  15. The CAR and PUC both count as a decoration according to the DoD (are they the ones to complain too?).

    One is a personal award/decoration, the other a unit award/decoration.

    It took the Vietnam War vets to get the CAR (where’s the medal?) (1969) , then later on for the Korean War vets, and WW2 vets to get CAR when most WW2 were gone by then (?).

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