The Marines of Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines were on a mounted patrol June 18, 2010, in Afghanistan’s deadly Helmand province when their convoy was ambushed by 15 Taliban fighters unleashing an intense combination of firepower, a scene then-company commander Maj. Carin Calvin described as “a hornet’s nest.”
Without hesitation, then-Cpl. Clifford Wooldridge, who was serving as vehicle commander at the time of the ambush, dismounted with his squad to maneuver into an offensive position.
Spotting the Taliban fighters, Wooldridge led a fire team across exposed terrain to flank their position, killing or wounding at least eight enemy fighters in the process and forcing others to scatter.
Wooldridge, with his M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon in tow, then positioned himself behind a wall to secure the safe evacuation of his fire team.
But while preparing to withdraw, the corporal overheard voices of enemy fighters from the other side of an adjacent wall.
Wasting no time, Wooldridge rushed around the corner of the wall and immediately came face-to-face with two Taliban fighters, engaging and killing them instantly with his M-249.
While crouching behind the wall once more to reload, Wooldridge spotted the barrel of an enemy machine gun protruding from the other side.
Ditching his M-249 mid-reload, Wooldridge grabbed the barrel of the enemy machine gun and wrestled it from the fighter in hand-to-hand combat.
Wooldridge killed the Taliban combatant with several blows to the head using the Taliban fighter’s own machine gun, stifling the enemy’s attempt to pull a grenade pin in the process.
When the rest of the fire team emerged from around the corner to support their team leader, they saw three dead enemy fighters, with the exhausted Marine standing over one, the enemy’s machine gun still in Wooldridge’s hands.
For his actions that day, Wooldridge was awarded the Navy Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor.
Wooldridge got out of the Marine Corps in 2016 as a staff sergeant. He was named the Marine Corps Times Marine of the Year in 2013.
Read his full Navy Cross citation here.
J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.