Sgt. Phillip A. McCulloch Jr. – Silver Star
While performing a route reconnaissance in the Sangin District, Afghanistan, Sgt. Phillip A. McCulloch Jr. and his squad heard an explosion off to the northeast as they were crossing the Helmand River.
Moments later, his team was ambushed by three machine gun positions and they took cover in the riverbank. The coming engagement resulted in McCulloch squad leader for 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) Afghanistan, having to make many critical decisions to ensure the safe return of his 21-man team Jan. 8, 2011.
“I’ve always had aggressive leaders in charge of me who accepted nothing less than perfection,” said McCulloch, 23. “I never second-guessed myself.”
McCulloch personally led his squad on the counter-attack, even taking time to destroy an enemy fighting position with an AT-4 anti-armor weapon. His squad then forced them to fall back by maintaining constant pressure and by making use of their air support and indirect fire capabilities.
“I was just doing my job. I wanted to make sure my Marines were safe,” said McCulloch, who was born in Arizona but raised in Texas. “It was just another day on the job.”
Only after six hours of fighting and with his squad low on ammunition did he return to friendly lines.
During the engagement he was wounded in the leg while trying to draw fire to reunite his squad. For these actions, McCulloch was presented a Silver Star by Brig. Gen. Daniel D. Yoo, commanding general, MCRD San Diego and the Western Recruiting Region, during a morning colors ceremony aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego Feb. 10.
“He absolutely deserves that medal. He’ll probably see more medals like that in the future. His courage under fire is unwavering,” said First Sgt. Christopher M. Carlisle, company first sergeant, Company M, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion. “He’s the future of the Corps.”
The Silver Star is the third highest military decoration and can be awarded to service members who show extraordinary heroism in action against an enemy of the United States.
“He was one of my (private first classes) as a staff sergeant. He stood amongst his peers since day one, always striving for more information, always wanting to learn as much as he possibly could,” said Carlisle. “I saw he had natural leadership skills.”
Now, McCulloch is using his combat experience to train the next generation of Marines as a drill instructor for Company M, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion.
“I came down here to give back to the Marine Corps, as a drill instructor,” said McCulloch. “I think my combat leadership as a whole, not just that one day, has definitely impacted my leadership and the way I look at things and down here at MCRD as well.”
McCulloch has been a drill instructor at the depot since December 2011 and is in his first recruit training cycle.
“With this combat experience, maturity and understanding of the way the Marine Corps works, he is definitely a person I want in front of recruits,” said Carlisle.
Throughout his time in the Marine Corps McCulloch has proven he has what it takes to get the job done.
“His nickname was ‘Prodigy,’ he stood above his peers,” said Carlisle. “He really was made to be an infantry squad leader.”
Although McCulloch is the Marine being awarded, it’s his squad he would like to recognize for their actions.
“I don’t think I earned it. My Marines earned it,” said McCulloch. “I wish they could all have one. I recognize them. They definitely earned it in my eyes.”
By Lance Cpl. Eric Quintanilla
Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego
U.S. Marine Corps
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