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Ketchikan Marine Recognized For Heroic Achievement
by M.C. Kauffman


April 24, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - Sergeant Zachary Pilcher, the son of Dan and Gigi Pilcher of Ketchikan, has recently been awarded the Combat Distinguishing Device for heroic achievement in the superior performance of his duties in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. The award authorized by John F Sattler, LtGen, CG, I Marine Expeditionary Force stated the Combat Distinguish Device was awarded to Sergeant Pilcher for his actions which occurred while he was directly participating in combat and at risk of injury from direct enemy action.

jpg Sgt. Zack Pilcher

Sgt. Zack Pilcher in Iraq
Photo courtesy Gigi Pilcher

Sergeant Pilcher was recognized for performing his duties in an exemplary and highly professional manner during the conduct of combat operations throughout the An Najaf, Al Anbar, and Karbala Provinces. From August 1, 2004 through January 15, 2005, Pilcher served as a squad leader and platoon guide, 1st Platoon, Company B, Battalion Landing Team 1/4, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), I Marine Expeditionary Force.

During combat operations against the Mahdi Militia, in the Wadi Al Salaam Cemetery in An Najaf, Iraq. Sgt. Pilcher took command of the platoon when the platoon commander was wounded. According to information released, throughout the fight in the cemetery, Pilcher coordinated ammunition, food and water replenishments, and casualty evacuation. Later, in the Al Anbar Province, Sergeant Pilcher led countless patrols through the towns of Khandari and Nassar Wa Al Salaam, Iraq.

In a document issued by the Marine Corps Military Awards Branch Headquarters, it was stated that Sgt. Pilcher significantly reduced the enemy's ability to operate freely against coalition forces and that Pilcher's initiative, perseverance and total dedication to duty reflected credit upon him and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and United States Naval Service.

During the battle in the Wadi al Salaam cemetery in Najaf, Sergeant Zachary Pilcher served as both a squad leader and the platoon guide for 1st Platoon. When the platoon commander was wounded by a mortar barrage, the Platoon Sergeant stepped up to take charge of the platoon, and Sergeant Pilcher assumed the duties of the Platoon Sergeant in addition to his other duties. Throughout the fight, it was noted that Pilcher was an exceptional leader who stood out among the others in the platoon. His squad had the critical task of providing rear security and clearing many crypts as the platoon pushed forward through the cemetery. On the second day of fighting, Sergeant Pilcher's squad was responsible for the platoon's right flank, keeping the platoon tied in with the adjacent company and ensuring the platoon did not advance ahead of the Marines next to them. When three Marines were wounded by a mortar barrage on the second night in the cemetery, it was noted that Sergeant Pilcher rushed to their aid in spite of continuing mortar and small arms fire. After initially treating them, he coordinated the casualty evacuation with an adjacent unit, then assisted in the evacuation. His ability to overcome any obstacle and his "take charge" mindset were key to his platoon's success in the Wadi al Salaam Cemetery, according to the document released by the Marine Corps Military Awards Branch.

jpg Sgt. Pilcher in Najaf

Sgt. Pilcher in Najaf
Photo courtesy Gigi Pilcher

While at the Agricultural Center in downtown An Najaf, it was noted that Sergeant Pilcher was responsible for coordinating and supervising the platoon's defense of the Ag Center and the adjacent Governor's Compound. One night, while touring the posts, he personally detained an individual that had attempted to infiltrate the platoon's defensive wire. He led several mounted and dismounted patrols on security, reconnaissance, and logistics missions during the period his platoon was at the Agriculture Center.

When the platoon was tasked with rapid redeployment to the Abu Ghraib Prison, Sergeant Pilcher was instrumental in helping the platoon to prepare to vacate the Agriculture Center, turn it over to another company, and ensure they had all required gear for the transit north. Sgt. Pilcher personally conducted several personnel and vehicle inspections. Through his effort, the platoon successfully redeployed without incident stated the Marine Corps Military Awards Branch document.

jpg Combat Distinguishing Device

Combat Distinguishing Device for heroic achievement

Further is was noted, while at Abu Ghraib, Sergeant Pilcher continued to remain dedicated to the mission at hand. He led several combat patrols the results of which were almost immediately felt by the enemy. He assisted in the detention of nine suspected enemy insurgents, removed countless enemy weapons from suspected insurgent weapons caches, coordinated and led numerous convoys vital to the mission, and assisted in the planning of a platoon-sized night ambush. The platoon commander and platoon sergeant routinely sought his experience and intellectual input. Because of Sergeant Pilcher's dedication and aggressive approach to combat operations, the enemy was forced to move from offensive operations to defensive operations. Attacks diminished significantly in the AO and the enemy was unsuccessful in the attempt to sever coalition supply lines in the area.

Upon return in December to Najaf, Sergeant Pilcher continued to be a driving force in the success of the platoon. He mentored junior NCOs and Marines and trained the platoon in critical MOS subjects. He coordinated security for several civil affairs missions that were vital to rebuilding the central Iraqi government. Through all his efforts, Sergeant Pilcher demonstrated to all his dedication to professionalism.

"Sergeant Pilcher's dedication to his job and consistent, exemplary performance of duties, reflected great credit upon himself," stated the Combat Distinguishing Device document.

This was Sgt. Pilcher second tour of duty in Iraq. During his first tour, Sgt. Pilcher was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (Gold Star In Lieu Of Second Award With Combat Distinguishing Device) by the Secretary of the Department of the Navy. The Marine Corps Achievement Medal is awarded for meritorious service or achievement in either combat or non-combat based on sustained performance or specific achievement of a superlative nature.

USMC Sgt. Pilcher returned to the states in February of 2005. He and his wife Nicki are currently stationed in California.

And what would Sgt. Pilcher say about his heroic actions? The same as all our brave American warriors...I was only doing my job.



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