Throughout American history, the United States Marine Corps has consistently proven that they are willing to fight anywhere, in any climate and with any weapons they can get their hands on. From antiquated hand-me-down rifles at Guadalcanal to shovels at the Chosin Reservoir and Harrier jump jets over Iraq, the phrase “anytime, anywhere” is aptly applied to the US Military’s smallest yet scrappiest branch.
Such is the case of retired Major Brian Chontosh, who proved his mettle while serving as a 1st Lieutenant during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.
A member of the 1st Marine Division, then 1st Lieutenant Chontosh’s anti-armor platoon was pushing forward towards Baghdad when they inadvertently stumbled into an ambush.
Within seconds, Iraqi troops -entrenched in an irrigation channel and fighting for their own territory- began overwhelming Chontosh’s convoy, slamming them with mortar fire, rocket-propelled grenades and streams of hot lead pouring from small arms.
With one Marine killed and another severely wounded, Chontosh found himself looking over his situation in a time span that measured fractions of a second: to his front were coalition tanks that blocked his path. Seeing the berm where enemy fire was coming from, the young officer ordered his driver to push directly into the berm.
Upon making contact, Chontosh leapt from his seat and into the trench, losing his “combat virginity” within seconds as he fired upon troops in close quarters combat.
Eventually exhausting the ammunition available for his M16, Chontosh switched to his pistol. When his pistol ran dry, he picked up an enemy AK and continued his assault. When one AK would finally run out, he would pick up another. At one point, he and his teammates picked up a Rocket Propelled Grenade launcher. While they didn’t know how to use it, the resulting shot was described by one man as “a ball of fire going down the trench.”
By the time he turned around to head back to his vehicle, he and his men had cleared over two hundred meters of trenchline.
En route back to the HMMWV, he stumbled across a grenade-armed enemy combatant who had been playing dead in order to surprise the Marines, who were now out of ammunition. Reaching on the ground and grabbing individual 5.56mm rounds discarded from a previous jam, Chontosh quickly dispatched the man using his M16.
According to military citation records, he had killed over twenty men and wounded several others.
Shortly after the incident, he was awarded the Navy Cross, the second-highest award a US Marine can earn for valor in combat.
Chontosh would remain in the United States Marine Corps until 2013, deploying to Iraq a second time and partaking in the second battle for Fallujah before being assigned to work at the United States Naval Academy, eventually leaving the Marines as a Major.
No slouch even in civilian life, Chontosh remains in incredibly good shape, placing second in the SoCal Regional Qualifiers for the 2009 CrossFit Games.
In 2012, Chontosh recalled his ordeal, telling the Stars and Stripes that he did not enjoy the brutality of warfare- not in the very least.
“From the moment we went in…the contact, up-close and personal, the fatigue, the stress, being that close and surrounded by the grotesque of combat. It was just…bad. Every single day,” he said. “When I look back at it, they were probably the most horrific days of my life.”
Still, he credits his fellow Marines, many of whom were also awarded to relative degrees for helping him out. To him, he said, he was “just an average dude doing exactly what anyone else that cared, that loved his people, or had a sense of what they were supposed to be doing … I was just doing exactly what any of those individuals would do.”
One would expect nothing less from a US Marine.
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