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MCAS Yuma Marine awarded Bronze Star

By Cpl. J. Oliver Johnson | | February 19, 2004

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A station Marine was awarded the Bronze Star Medal Feb. 12 for his professional performance while serving in Iraq recently.

Staff Sgt. Michael A. Turner, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, was awarded the prestigious medal "for exceptional meritorious performance of duty during Operation Iraqi Freedom. His outstanding dedication to duty during ground combat in Iraq contributed to the overwhelming success of Victory Corps," according to the citation for the award.

Turner, ever the modest story teller, credits his actions as simply "just doing my job the best that I could" as the press desk noncommissioned officer in charge of the Coalition Press Information Center, Combined Joint Task Force Seven, Baghdad, Iraq.

Others might credit his exceptional actions to the four years he spent in the infantry after he joined the Marine Corps in 1990.

"I came into the Corps to travel, grow up a little and get out and be a civilian," he explained. "I never planned to make a career out of it.

After his first enlistment, Turner left the Marines and remained a civilian for a year.

"I realized that I missed the Marine Corps and I missed the brotherhood," Turner said. "It just seemed like a natural thing for me to come back in."

Wanting a job that provided more technical training than being a "grunt," Turner returned as a Hawk missile radar technician, which brought him to Yuma in 1996.

As his second enlistment came to an end, so did the Marines' Hawk missile program. Once again Turner had to find another Military Occupational Specialty if he wanted to remain in the Corps.

"I knew that if I did something else, I'd either go back to being a grunt or I'd try to find something that would keep me home and stabilize my home life," Turner explained. "By that time I was married and had kids, and once they became part of the equation I had to make them the priority."

That priority led Turner to public affairs, his third MOS in the Marine Corps.

"To be honest, I didn't know exactly what public affairs was. But it was more stable and there wasn't as much field time or deployments," he explained. "My wife convinced me that I didn't want to be a grunt at this point in my life."

Although the transition to a "desk job" was a difficult one at first, Turner learned the job through on-the-job training and by attending the Basic Journalism Course at Fort George G. Meade, Md.

"Once I went through the school, the light came on and it was much more enjoyable for me," he said. "It was a pride thing for me. I'm not used to failure."

Another thing Turner was never used to was sitting by quietly while others gave their all.

"After Sept. 11 happened, I think we all wanted to deploy and get a little pay-back for what happened," he explained. "When the slots came open for Marines to deploy, I jumped on the chance to go."

After arriving in Baghdad July 29, 2003, Turner's main function was to supervise the press desk, where every news agency interested in military activity in Iraq would call for information.

"I just handled the basic leadership of being in charge, like taking care of issues and making sure everything functioned properly," Turner said.

In addition to performing his leadership duties, Turner volunteered to personally escort members of the media when they went on patrols with military units.

"A lot of times I would go out with the (operations) section, just to go out," he recalled.

Although his role during the patrols was to simply escort the media, the task was not one Turner took lightly.

"There were improvised explosive devices and people were getting killed out there all the time," he explained. "People were hesitant to do it because traveling on the roads was one of the biggest dangers."

Although those on patrol were prepared for the worst, another incident happened that even caught Turner by surprise.

Shortly after 6 a.m. on Oct. 26, 2003, a home-made rocket launcher fired upon Baghdad's Al Rashid Hotel, where Turner and his unit were living and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was taking part in a three-day visit. One person was killed and 17 others were injured.

"I had just gotten out of the shower and I knew something was happening," Turner said. "The building was shaking and I smelled smoke. On my way down, there was blood on the stairs and people were running around injured."

Seeing the hysteria and more possible danger, Turner took command of the situation and led the people to the hotel's dining facility, where he checked for accountability and rounded up those who were unaccounted for.

"I was shaken, too. It was a scary issue for me," Turner admitted. "But we had to get everyone focused because we still had a job to do."

Even through the hectic situation, Turner remained calm and helped others to do so as well.

"The Marine Corps training just kicked in," he explained. "You just have to stay calm and do your best in a tough situation."

Looking back since his return to Yuma in January, Turner attributes his actions in Iraq to his training in the infantry, but more so his basic Marine training.

"Marines are taught to trust their instincts and to react under fire," he said. "And that's all that I did."

Although Turner has been away from the infantry MOS for several years and now does most of his everyday work behind a computer screen, he knows the importance of Marines in non-combatant career fields to be ready for the toughest situations.

"With some MOSs, it's very likely that you'll never be put into that kind of situation," he explained. "But the worst thing that could happen is that you're put into that kind of situation and you're not ready for it."

Turner isn't the only one who stresses the need for every Marine to be combat ready.

"Staff Sgt. Turner is an example of what I have been saying all along," said Lt. Col. William C. Turner, H&HS commanding officer. "Regardless of your MOS, be prepared to go into harm's way. It's only a matter of time before all Marines face that type of situation, so it's inevitable."

For Staff Sgt. Turner, he's had his share of danger, and back home with his family is right where he wants to be.

"It's good that I'm back," he said. "It's good for my wife, my kids, my parents and me. But I'm glad that I got to go over there."

As evidenced by the presentation of the Bronze Star, others are also glad that Turner was in Iraq when he was.

"I feel really humble when I see what he had to do and how he did it," said Brig. Gen. Willie Williams, Assistant Deputy Commandant of Marine Corps Installations and Logistics (Facilities), who presented Turner with the award. "This Marine stepped forward and assumed the leadership position at a time when leadership appeared to be broken down. I think he's an example for the Marine Corps and for the entire world."

Although he's naturally a very modest person, Turner acknowledges that he's an example to other Marines, just as any good leader is, and knows other Marines will continue to do their best while serving in Iraq.

"I'm proud that I got to do my part to help give the Iraqis a better life," he said. "I saw how grateful they were and I know that we are over there fighting for the right reasons."

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