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Marine Raider to receive Navy Cross for heroics during battle with ISIS

A U.S. Marine Raider. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joseph Pick)
August 12, 2021

A U.S. Marine Raider is set to receive the Navy Cross — the second-highest military decoration for combat heroics awarded to sailors and Marines — for his actions during a several-hours-long firefight with ISIS in Iraq in March of 2020.

On Wednesday, the Marine Forces, Special Operations Command (MARSOC) announced Staff Sgt. Nicholas Jones will receive the Navy Cross during a ceremony at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina on August 26. Jones is a critical skills operator with the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion.

On March 8, 2020, Jones and his unit came under heavy fire from barricaded ISIS fighters during operations to clear an enemy cave complex in northern Iraq. During the initial attack, a French special operator and two Marine Raiders were wounded.

Jones was the Element Leader during the operation and reacted to the ambush by organizing a counterattack.

Facing sustained and accurate enemy fire, the Olathe, Kansas native maneuvered to the French casualty and used his rifle and grenades to suppress enemy combatants about 20 meters away, all while helping to move the French special operator to safety and subsequent medical evacuation.

Though MARSOC did not reveal the fate of the two wounded Marines in its press release, Stars & Stripes reported the date and details of the battle coincide with the deaths of two Marine Raiders. Gunnery Sgt. Diego D. Pongo and Capt. Moises A. Navas, both of whom were Marine Raiders with  2nd Marine Raider Battalion, were killed during anti-ISIS operations in Iraq in March of 2020.

In a video released last month for the nonprofit Jones recently founded, called the Talons Reach Foundation, Jones recalled the shock after the 2020 firefight began.

“Hell just opens up behind me. Chaos. And then the next second there’s an ‘Eagle’ down,” Jones said.

“Eagle” is a term used to refer to American special operators. An “Eagle down” refers to an American special operator who has been wounded.

During the battle, Jones said he ran up a mountainside towards the mouth of the cave complex.

“Now I’m on top of the cave,” Jones said. “That’s when I see him.”

Jones again exposed himself by venturing out onto a steep ravine where his two teammates were injured. He threw grenades and fired his rifle in an effort to drive the enemies back.

“I just knew that they wouldn’t have quit for me,” Jones said of his wounded teammates. “So I’m not going to quit.”

According to the MARSOC statement, the Jones continued to exchange gunfire with the enemy at a close range until he was driven back by the sheer volume of accurate enemy fire.

After about five hours of sustained fighting, Jones led a third and final assault on the fortified enemy positions, again exposing himself to gunfire. It was during this assault that Jones was struck in the leg by enemy small arms fire.

“As soon as I went up there for that last attempt, it felt like I got smacked by a baseball bat right in my right shin,” Jones said.

According to the MARSOC statement, Jones refused medical treatment and pain medication and continued fighting until he could be medically evacuated.

“By his decisive actions, bold initiative, and unconquerable spirit, Staff Sgt. Jones reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service,” MARSOC said.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger is expected to present the
Navy Cross to Jones on Aug. 26.

Jones is set to become the eighth service member in MARSOC’s 15-year history to be awarded the Navy Cross.