The Hero of Nasiriyah, Iraq – Sgt Major Justin LeHew Retires

 
 
SHARE:

One wrong turn can be all it takes to turn a regular soldier into a hero.  On March 23rd, 2003, the US Army’s 507 Maintenance Company took that wrong turn and ended up in the city of  Nasiriyah, Iraq.  When the dust settled, eighteen Marines were lost, and events had transpired that would land Sergeant Major Justin LeHew the Navy Cross.

Six soldiers were captured, and eleven more killed when Iraqi forces bore down on the 507th during an ambush.  LeHew, then serving as a platoon sergeant, got the call to rescue the Army unit.

“Under constant enemy fire, he led the rescue team to the soldiers. With total disregard for his own welfare, he assisted the evacuation effort of four soldiers, two of whom were critically wounded,” LeHew’s Navy Cross citation reads.

Sgt. Maj. Justin D. LeHew

The sergeant major, now nicknamed the “Hero of Nasiriyah,” is now set to retire from the Marine Corps after thirty years of dignified service.  With the rescue effort complete, LeHew led his company of Assault Amphibious Vehicles (AAV’s) deeper into Nasiriyah to both capture and pacify it, as well as secure a bridge across the Euphrates, all while under enemy fire.

During the intense, three-hour firefight to claim the bridge, LewHew exposed himself to enemy fire multiple times.  One of his AAV’s was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, and LeHew had to move to recover the nine dead or wounded Marines, all while enduring a steady barrage of enemy fire.

Marine Corp amphibious vehicle destroyed near Nasiriyah, Iraq – March 2003.

Both Bravo and Charlie companies went deeper into the city while Alpha stayed behind to secure the bridge.  Charlie, however, was quickly pinned down in an urban gun battle as it navigated through a dangerous part of the city called “Ambush Alley” by Army planners.

LeHew continued into the city streets, fighting through four hours of house to house, street to street close quarter combat, as he maintained and reinforced a defensive perimeter, repelling numerous waves of Saddam Fedayeen attackers, including directing tank and infantry fire.

Iraqi Type 69QM Tank destroyed near Nasiriyah.

Securing Nasiriyah would cost the Corps nearly eighteen Marines and seven AAVs.  Many casualties were the result of friendly fire from an Air Force A-10 that misread the Marines tracked amphibious vehicles for Iraqi armor.

Sgt. Maj. Justin D. Lehew speaks with students and faculty participating in the Staff Non-Commissioned Officers Academy Feb. 6 at the West Chapel on Camp Hansen regarding his personal experiences in the Marine Corps and how those in attendance can expand their knowledge of history and tradition. Lehew earned the Navy Cross, the second highest award for combat valor after the Medal of Honor, for his actions March 23-24, 2003 during the Battle of An-Nasiriyah.

LeHew’s awards include the Navy Cross, awarded in 2004, and the Bronze Star with Combat “V” for valor, earned while serving as first sergeant during the bloody battle in Najaf, Iraq.  On August 5th of 2004, LeHew and his Marines endured an attack from snipers, mortars, and machine gun fire by the Madhi militia.

The battle lasted for twenty-two days and involved plenty of danger for LeHew, who would on multiple occasions be forced to move about the battlefield under intense fire to motivate his Marines.  At Najaf, he offered his assistance in the treatment and evacuation of nine wounded Marines, while three were killed in action.

LeHew is presently assigned to the Wounded Warrior Battalion – East, at Walter Reed Bethesda, National Medical Military Centre in Maryland.  The Corps has him listed as a recovering service member.  According to Major Eric P. Gentrup, the executive officer for the Wounded Warrior Regiment, LeHew’s retirement will be held at the Assault Amphibian School at Camp Pendleton, California, and he will officially retire as of July 31st, 2018.

Sgt. Maj. Justin LeHew, outgoing regimental sergeant major, left, hands over the Noncommissioned Officers’ Sword to Col. Timothy Winand, commanding officer of 3rd Marine Regiment, during a relief and appointment ceremony at Dewey Square aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii, 20 August 2013. Sgt. Maj. Vincent Santiago, incoming regimental sergeant major, relieved LeHew of his duties. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Matthew Bragg/RELEASED)

During his career, Sergeant Major LeHew participated in combat operations in Operation Desert Storm, Operations Provide Promise and Deny Flight in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.  He was also deployed in Okinawa, Japan, to provide support for the Unit Deployment Program there.  His final assignment was serving as the Sergeant Major at the Training and Education Command at Quantico, Virginia, which he assumed on the 29th of August, 2013.