RANGER AGAINST WAR: MOH #2 : Jason L. Dunham <

Monday, May 12, 2008

MOH #2 : Jason L. Dunham

Jason L. Dunham

A hero is a man who does what he can
--Romain Roland


Chronologically, the next Medal of Honor went to Jason L. Dunham, Cpl. USMC. Action: 14 April 04. Cpl. Dunham took the uttermost action that he could have.

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as Rifle Squad Leader, 4th Platoon, Company K, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines (Reinforced), Regimental Combat Team 7, First Marine Division (Reinforced), on 14 April 2004.

Why was an E-4 operating as a rifle squad leader, which is an E-6 billet? This lack of mid-level NCO's suggests a seriously degraded unit, never a positive indicator of a unit's leadership environment.

E-4's are not trained to effectively lead a squad, especially not in brutal close-combat environments.

Corporal Dunham led his Combined Anti-Armor Team towards the engagement to provide fire support to their Battalion Commander's convoy, which had been ambushed as it was traveling to Camp Husaybah. As Corporal Dunham and his Marines advanced, they quickly began to receive enemy fire. Corporal Dunham ordered his squad to dismount their vehicles and led one of his fire teams on foot several blocks south of the ambushed convoy.

This scenario indicates that these friendly units were operating independently and out of mutually supporting distances. It is unusual for an element led by an E-4 to be required or expected to move to an ambush site to support a Battalion Commander. Usually it is the other way around. Why the reversal?

As they approached the vehicles, an insurgent leaped out and attacked Corporal Dunham.

Approaching a potentially hostile vehicle is foolhardy, unless the vehicles are covered by automatic weapons ready to apply suppressive fires. Obviously this didn't happen, which indicates the squad was overtaxed and over-committed, or under-trained.

Aware of the imminent danger and without hesitation, Corporal Dunham covered the grenade with his helmet and body, bearing the brunt of the explosion and shielding his Marines from the blast.

Why was indirect fire not used to seal off the area of engagement, or to support elements in distress? This incredible act of selfless bravery is undeniable. But why are we putting our personnel in such situations?

Corporal Dunham was investigating an attack on a Marine convoy. His patrol intercepted a number of cars spotted near the scene of the attack when an individual in one of the vehicles attacked Dunham. Haven't COIN commanders learned yet about secondary ambushes?

Placing our personnel in such close quarter danger is beneficial only to our adversaries, and negates all of our sophisticated weapons technology.
Cpl. Dunham was placed in a hopeless situation that required a superhuman response in order for the team to survive.

Placing fighting men in such a position is not leadership -- it is foolhardy bravado.

Michael P. Murphy

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Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

a corporal? leading a rifle squad? he should have been, at best, under a buck sergeant, two staffs, a gunny, and a first sergeant.

he should have been executing orders, not giving them.

falling on a grenade is among the most selfless acts a soldier can make. it is also among the most desperate.

desperation seems to be the order of the day.

that these fine young men are put in these situations is beyond waste and shame.

it is tragic.

Monday, May 12, 2008 at 6:41:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

I realize the realities of combat and that everybody in the chain has to assume additional responsibilities BUT THAT SHOULD BE ON AN EMERGENCY BASIS AND NOT SOP.

Monday, May 12, 2008 at 6:49:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


That is absolutely the way I feel. Tragic, but all the moreso when the scenario should not have occurred as it did. A terrible waste, and a sad metaphor for the desperation of the entire endeavor.

Monday, May 12, 2008 at 8:26:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous mike said...

Ranger -

A rifle squad leader was an E-5 buck sergeant billet back in my days in the Corps and not a job for a SSgt. I don't have inside info, but do not believe that has changed.

The confusing part to me is the write-up says initially that he was a rifle squad leader but later that he was leading a Combined Anti-Armor Team (CAAT). That is a completely different critter and perhaps they do use Staff NCOs as team or squad leaders??? I would be interested in seeing a current TO (TOE for you Army guys) for a Marine Rifle Company and a Weapons Company.

But then, a TO probably would not tell the story as they most likely were task organized for that particular mission or for that period of time.

I also note that the date of the action was April of 2004. This was just a year into OIF and long before the recruiting crunch. So it cannot be blamed on personnel shortages or lack of unit training time.

But I think you are too harsh on this one. I expect he was a hard charger who volunteered for the job when the Sgt or SSgt was unavailable for this particular convoy due to wounds or reasons unknown. Happens all the time. I was once attached to a platoon in Vietnam where the Platoon Commander was a SSgt, the Platoon Sergeant was a Sgt, two of the squad leaders were Cpls and the third was a LCpl. It was not for an extended period of time and it was not normal, but then it was not that rare either. As you know, frontline units are always understrength what with sick, wounded, R&R, emergency leave, Sergeant Major's working parties, and the slow response of the S-1/G-1 system.

And I would not think that they would use the words "acting squad leader" in the award write-up.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 at 1:53:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

Mike, thanks for your most welcomed input. I admit a weakness in knowledge of USMC TO&E.All of your points are accepted and acknowledged.We are on the same page in many respects.
My position is that I'm not tough enough on condemning the chain of command.Please bear with me and read all four articles before deciding.I've started down this particular path after the MOH's of Shughart and Jordon .Both were placed in unacceptable positions thru poor tactical planning. The only difference is that they chose to accept a mission improbable.
Your comments on the recruiting crunch are well taken but pls keep in mind that the cutting edge of the combat arms are always robbed to fill all HQ and gofer jobs.I'd stake a beer on this fact being true about your unit in RVN.and for the units described in this scenario. jim

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 at 9:17:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

My logic is that a fire team leader should be an E5, a sqd ldr E6 and plt sgt an E7. jim

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 at 9:28:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Labrys said...

In combat and in garrison, my son tells me that this sort of thing is much more the rule than the exception the last few years. In his last two years in the Army, he was (until the very last few months) an E-4, due to physical issues keeping him from the necessary PT test for promotion. But the job he did was an E-7 billet and he did it so well that officers dealing with him did not want to see him replaced. Yet, they did not promote him, because of his screwed up knees that eventually ended his military career.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 at 10:59:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger FDChief said...

mike: Army TO&E calls out an E-6 as squad leader, I think that may causing some disconnet here. I had the same reaction as Ranger did when I read this - what the hell was going on here?

That said, what I find fascinating in a fairly messed-up way is the difference between the sort of MOH citations that came out of WW2 and a lot of those coming out of this war (and to some extent, Vietnam).

Look at the big war and you find a whole bunch of guys getting cited for killing Bad Guys, like Nick DeGlopper's suicidal attack on the German positions at La Fiere, or Lennie Funk ventilating more Krauts at Holzheim. In the Pacific you have Roger Young riddling Japanese.

Look at the two citations we've seen from Iraq. 50% are the "falling on a grenade" kind of heroism. Heroic? Yes. The kind of heroism that shoves the other guy against the wall and makes him yell "kamarad"? No.

ISTM that these citations speak two things without saying them:

1. A tacit recognition that the wars involved have no "victory". Smith and Dunham aren't moving the FLOT closer to Berlin or Tokyo. All they're doing is SSDD; killing ragtag Iraqis, substituting motion for direction.

2. A very tiny hint of shame that the "enemy" isn't really in the big leagues. These are guys who struck out against the Bad News Bears, not the Dodgers or Cardinals. The enemies here aren't big, tough, world-beaters like the Wehrmacht or the Imperial Japanese marines, they're a bunch of sorry, sad-ass Third World militia-army thugs. Selling the "falling on a grenade" kind of heroism is a whole lot easier than selling the "drive my enemies before me and hear the lamentations of their women" kind when the two sides are so unequal. Nobody cheers the bully beating up the class sissy, right?

Both these guys were studs. But the circumstances, well...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 at 4:24:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


This is it in a nutshell: "A tacit recognition that the wars involved have no 'victory'." These indeed are not actually wars.

Your analysis is spot-on. I did not take my piece to your stage of analysis, but the two implications you draw are valid.

The FLOT/FEBA does not exist on the ground in these shoot-'em-ups. So very much, the only turf is ideological/religious/ or nationalistic. All of these "battles" are meaningless exercises, as you point out so well.

There is absolutely no parity.

These citations are similar to those you would find from the Indian Wars in that there was no proportionality among the belligerents.

I still think a squad leader in the USMC is an E-6. Maybe a Marine out there can help us.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 at 5:52:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


There was a time in the Army that if you filled the slot you got the rank, but those days are long gone.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 at 6:04:00 PM GMT-5  

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