Face of Defense: Heroic Navy Corpsman Receives Silver Star Medal

A Navy corpsman with 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, Marine Raider Regiment, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, was awarded the Silver Star medal during a Feb. 5 ceremony here.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Alejandro Salabarria received the medal for heroic actions in Afghanistan in September 2014.

A Miami native, he said he joined the Navy in December 2008 with the full intention of becoming a corpsman serving at an infantry unit. However, his first orders directed him to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina.

Unfazed, Salabarria decided to take control of his future service as a corpsman, taking an interest in special operations. He attended the Basic Reconnaissance School and Army Basic Airborne School, then received orders to 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment here. As he was preparing for deployment with Scout Sniper Platoon, Salabarria jumped on the opportunity to attend the Special Operations Combat Medic Course at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Upon graduation, he received orders to 2nd Marine Raider Battalion.

He checked into the team in 2013, and from the start he set himself apart.

Deployment to Afghanistan

In June 2014, the team deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Near the end of their deployment, on Sept. 15, 2014, the team was caught by enemy fire.

The team had been dropped off on a landing zone and split into two groups for the flight, with one group staging to the north and the other to the south. Because the aircraft they were awaiting wasn’t expected to land for several hours, the teams took a tactical pause to adjust their gear. But when dark settled over the landing zone, they came under attack.

A rogue shooter fired an M203 round into the landing zone before circling around and firing an automatic weapon into the groups of raiders and commandos.

Hearing cries for help, Salabarria grabbed his medical kit and ran toward the center of the landing zone. He was met by an interpreter, who directed him to the team’s senior medic. The medic had been struck in his arm and leg, shattering the upper part of his shin.

Defending an Injured Comrade

“I checked him over real quick, and that’s when I noticed that we were directly getting shot at,” Salabarria said. “At that point, I laid on top of [the senior medic], told him not to move, and I shot at [the shooter] until he went down.”

For his “bold initiative, undaunted courage, and complete dedication to duty,” Maj Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, presented Salabarria with the Silver Star medal. He was joined by Navy Surgeon General Vice Adm. (Dr.) C. Forrest Faison III, and teammates from 2nd Marine Raider Battalion.

“I think anybody on that team, given the opportunity, would have done the same thing. It just happened to be me that did it,” Salabarria said.

Marine Corps Sgt. Charles Strong lost his life during the attack. His family attended the ceremony as guests of honor, along with the family of Marine Corps Capt. Stanford H. Shaw III, who was a part of the “Raider 7” lost in a March helicopter crash off the Florida coast. Shaw was the officer who first submitted Salabarria for the award.

“[This medal] is more for Captain Shaw and Sergeant Strong than anything,” Salabarria said. “It’s all for them.”