April 2, 2012
By Lance Cpl. Timothy Childers, 15th MEU
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — The parade deck at San Mateo was filled with Marines March 29, as Sgt. Ryan T. Sotelo, a San Mateo, Calif. native, was awarded the Silver Star. He was honored for the actions he took as a squad leader with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment while deployed to Sangin District, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Maj. Gen. Ronald L. Bailey, commanding general, 1st Marine Division, presented the medal to Sotelo, who is now a scout sniper with Battalion Landing Team 3/5, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The Silver Star Medal is the United States’ third highest award for combat valor and is fifth in the precedence of military awards.
“It was humbling when the general pinned on the star,” said Sotelo. “When we perform out in country we don’t do it for metals, we do it for the Marine on the right and left of us.”
On Nov. 25, 2010, Sotelo’s squad was ambushed in an open field with machinegun and small arms fire, killing the platoon commander. Without hesitation, Sotelo took charge of the unit and moved them to a nearby canal. He then sprinted through heavy fire across open ground to retrieve the body of his fallen lieutenant.
With the defensive position now unreachable because of intense small arms fire, he called in supporting arms to cover the squad’s movement to a nearby compound. As insurgents began to assault the position, he fearlessly led his squad as they repelled the enemy.
When one enemy combatant began to fire on an exposed Marine, Sotelo closed in on the insurgent and killed him with a grenade.
“As soon as we got across, we got lit up and engaged in every direction,” said Cpl. Jose Launder, Company K, 3rd Bn., 5th Marines. “Sotelo just ran over and threw a grenade.”
After a reinforcing Marine unit was pinned down by heavy fire from the insurgents, Sotelo again disregarded his own safety to engage the enemy machinegun with rifle, finally calling in an air strike that silenced the enemy fire.
“I think a lot of us are here because of his actions that day,” added Launder.
Realizing that his situation was dire, Sotelo lead a fighting withdrawal more than 600 meters through enemy fire to bring his squad back to friendly lines and safety.
Sergeant Sotelo will continue serving his country as he prepares for the 15th MEU’s upcoming deployment scheduled for this summer.