CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force, Maj. Gen. Raymond C. Fox hosted a Heroes Dinner, Nov. 14, to honor Marines and sailors whose actions not only helped save lives but also displayed extraordinary forms of selflessness. The Marines and sailors represented various units of II MEF, including 2nd Air-Naval Gunfire Liason Company, 2nd Law Enforcement Battalion, II MEF Headquarters Group, Wounded Warrior Battalion – East, 2nd Radio Battalion and 2nd Intelligence Battalion.
Fox was joined by celebrity chef Rick Tarantino and Mr. Paul Chapa, founder of Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer. Military guests included II MEF Deputy Commanding General, Brig. Gen. John K. Love and his wife; II MEF Sergeant Major, Sgt. Maj. Robert G. VanOostrom and his wife and II MEF Command Master Chief, Master Chief Petty Officer Tammy R. Heap.
“It’s always great working with someone who loves spending time with service members,” said Sgt. Paul Dragicevich, a general’s aid and cook. “Most people will say, ‘thanks for your service,’ Chef Rick and Paul Chapa go above and beyond to show their support. They make this event happen (by) getting the food donated, getting companies to offer discounts for (service members) and they are a huge voice for hiring vets in the food service industry.”
Chef Rick and Dragicevich worked together in 2011 at the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Heroes Dinner.
“This is my third time doing this, and it’s an amazing feat,” said Chef Rick. “We are honored getting to do this for you. Every time I come, the stories get more tear-jerking. I always go back telling everyone about the stories I heard.”
The Marines and sailors honored at the dinner demonstrated courage both on and off the battlefield. For some it is their strife for greatness and their selflessness which establishes new levels of giving and thoughtfulness.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Christine H. Moretto, a corpsman with 2nd Radio Battalion, was at a landing zone with Marines during training on Sept. 25 when she was called to action.
As the CH-53E Super Stallion entered the LZ, the Marines aboard started their egress down the fast rope. One of the Marines took his turn on the rope but was unable to apply the proper technique for a slow descent. The Marine fell off the rope, landing very hard on his back.
Moretto, with the help of nearby Marines, assessed the Marine, determined he had sustained a serious injury, and stabilized him onto a spine board until an ambulance could reach the LZ. The injured Marine was later airlifted to Pitt Memorial Hospital where he had a confirmed fracture to one of his vertebrae. His surgeon said had it not been for Moretto’s actions the Marine could have been paralyzed or died.
Sgt. Corey D. Bigelow, a forward observer with 2nd ANGLICO, was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2011 with a Joint Terminal Attack Control team. In June 2011, two Afghan National Army soldiers in his patrol were gravely wounded after detonating an improvised explosive device.
Bigelow took control of the situation and directed his Marines to secure the area while initiating the triage and treatment of the two soldiers. He coordinated a quick, yet methodical search for other IED’s while organizing an evacuation. His quick thinking not only saved the life of one of the wounded soldiers but also served as a powerful example of assertive leadership in a combat environment.
Cpl. Joseph P. Singer III, a canine handler with 2nd Law Enforcement Battalion, was in Helmand Province in July 2011 when he and his dog, Yona, were involved in a mission to clear and destroy a large weapons cache in the area. Soon after detonating the enemy’s stockpile of weapons and explosive material, their patrol came under an intense enemy attack of small arms and rocket propelled grenades.
Singer and Yona had to take cover in a nearby compound where Singer placed Yona in a covered position within the compound. Singer was returning fire when a grenade exploded nearby. Singer sustained serious shrapnel wounds to his legs and torso, but because of Singers selflessness and thoughtfulness to place Yoma in a protected location, Yono emerged unscathed after the attack.
Cpl. Patrick F. Matisi, recovering from injuries at Wounded Warrior Battalion – East, was with 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion when he was wounded. In July 2011, while in Helmand Province, Marisi was called after a nearby squad triggered an IED and came under intense enemy fire.
Marisi quickly moved to an adjacent compound to provide and set up fire support positions from a roof. Shortly after gaining access to the roof and sweeping the rooftop for IED’s, he was hit in his right arm. The round shattered his bone, traveled through his chest and left him with an open chest wound. He survived, but has had several surgeries to repair his hand, which is he still recovering from.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Devin C. Kelly, current aid for II MEF Command Deck, was severely injured in Al-Anbar Province, Iraq, after his convoy struck an IED in 2006. Shrapnel punctured Kelly’s head, exiting through the roof of his mouth, breaking his nose and shattering his orbital bone and jaw. He also sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury, three broken lumbar vertebra, three broken ribs and a collapsed lung. However that didn’t stop Kelly.
He ignored his injuries, and was aiding his Marines until another corpsman stopped him so Kelly could receive treatment. While focusing on his own recovery, Kelly helped establish Wounded Warrior West Detachment, Hawaii, where he and several other Marines ensured oncoming service members received all the physical, mental and spiritual help they needed.
Sgt. David E. Proffen, a sensor operator with 2nd Intelligence Battalion, has deployed twice to Afghanistan as a team leader. He constantly searches for ways to improve not only himself, but also the equipment he works with. Proffen holds three billets along with his primary military occupational specialty of rifleman. He is a sensor operator, marksmanship coach and martial arts instructor.
Lance Cpl. Ji Y. Lee, financial management resource analyst with II Marine Headquarters Group, works with officers and senior enlisted Marines on a daily basis, but demonstrates a maturity and initiative above those of her peers. She single-handedly jump started the use of a new program to manage Official Representation Funds previously managed by the II MEF comptroller office.
Along with managing more than 4,000 Government Travel Charge Card holders, Lee maintains and manages funding requirements for II MHG, facilitates the training and mentoring of inbound Marines, and has volunteered approximately 60 hours of her liberty periods to assist other units and base-wide functions, since she checked in last year. She is the Single Marine Representative for II MHG proper, and has been the left rifle bearer for II MHG Color Guard for more than eight months.
Staff Sgt. Johnny W. Morris II, recovering at WWBn. – East, had his left leg amputated below the knee by an IED blast, but has made a quick recovery. Morris has participated in an internship at a local gunsmith’s shop, and has partnered with a fellow recovering service member to start their own business specializing in maintaining and fabricating firearms. He not only has numerous awards to attest to his character, but he is a highly regarded Marine, looked up to by his junior Marines.
Gunnery Sgt. Aaron F. Tam, also recovering at WWBn. – East, was wounded in April 2011 in Afghanistan from an IED which detonated 10 feet away from him. Since he returned and during his recovery, Tam has surpassed the requirements expected of him, accepting responsibilities and assisting staff members in their daily duties.
In addition to his recovery, Tam is devoted to maintaining proficiency in his MOS by serving as an instructor at 2nd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company. He recently accepted an internship with Naval Sea System Command Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division and plans to continue working with explosive ordnance disposal after separation.