The Marines of Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines were on a mounted patrol June 18, 2010, in Afghanistan’s Helmand province when their convoy was ambushed and came under intense enemy fire from 15 Taliban fighters, 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.

Quickly spotting the Taliban fighters, Wooldridge led a fire team across exposed terrain to flank their position, killing or wounding at least eight hostiles in the process and forcing others to scatter.

Sgt. Clifford Wooldridge stands at attention after receiving the Navy Cross Medal. He earned the medal for combat actions in Helmand province, Afghanistan, while attached to 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, in 2010.
Sgt. Clifford Wooldridge stands at attention after receiving the Navy Cross Medal. He earned the medal for combat actions in Helmand province, Afghanistan, while attached to 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, in 2010.

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 heard 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.

Crouching back behind the wall to reload, Wooldridge then spotted the barrel of an enemy machine gun protruding from the other side of the wall.

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 quickly killed the Taliban combatant with several blows to the head using the enemy’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 fight with their team leader, they saw three dead enemy fighters and Wooldridge standing over one, the enemy’s machine gun still in hand.

For his actions that day, Wooldridge earned the Navy Cross, an award second only to the Congressional 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.