In the early stages of the War in Iraq in 2003, though American forces were moving swiftly into the depths of that country, they were meeting stiff resistance in many places along the way. On March 23, 2003 an incident occurred that required an immediate and difficult rescue mission to recover members of the Army’s 507th Maintenance Company who had been captured by Iraqi forces.
That mission was assigned to Marine Corps Sgt. Major Justin Lehew of Alpha Co, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Division of Task Force Tarawa.
That day, a group of trucks from the Army’s 507th Maintenance Company took a wrong turn on their way into the city of Nasiriyah, Iraq. They came under an ambushed by Iraqi forces. Eleven of the 507th’s troops were killed in action and six were captured as POWs during the attack, including Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was also wounded.
Under heavy enemy fire, Sgt. Major LeHew led his Marines, moving through an intense battle with the Iraqi captors, exposing himself without regard to his own safety, as he continually directed his men forward until they overwhelmed the Iraqi forces holding the U.S Army POWs at that location.
They were able to liberate and evacuate four of the captured 507th Maintenance Co. Army troops that were being held there. Two of them were critically wounded. Two others, both female POWs, were being held and treated for their wounds at a hospital in another location. They would be rescued a few days later.
After recovering the four POWs, LeHew’s Alpha Co. of Assault Amphibious Vehicles (AAVs), moved forward to help in the capture of the city of Nasiriyah. They were assigned to take a bridge that crossed the Euphrates River into the city.
The fight for the bridge would last for three intense hours.
The Iraqi forces defending it would put up a very stiff fight. LeHew was seen once again exposing himself to enemy fire while leading his Marines in the battle for the bridge on several occasions.
At one point, one of his AAVs took a devastating direct hit from a rocket propelled grenade. The blast killed or wounded all nine of the Marines on board. LeHew, again without hesitation, moved forward to the stricken AAV and successfully recovered and evacuated all of his Marines while under heavy fire. As a result of his behavior under fire during this battle, Sgt. Major LeHew would be awarded the Navy Cross, the nation’s second highest award for conspicuous valor in combat.