Marine Corps/DoD News

Marine Raider to receive Navy Cross for Iraq fight

Marine Raider to receive Navy Cross for Iraq fight

Philip Athey

A former staff sergeant with the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will receive the Navy Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor, for his actions fighting ISIS in the Makhmur Mountains of Iraq, according to a release from Marine Forces Special Operations Command. 

On March 8, 2020, Marine Staff Sgt. Nicholas J. Jones was working as an element leader alongside French special operators and Iraqi security forces to clear positions in northern Iraq, approximately 60 km south of Erbil, when enemies barricaded in a cave “unleashed a heavy volume of fire” on a nearby unit, the release said. “Hell just opens up behind me,” Jones said in a video about that day. “Chaos.” One French special operator and two Marine Raiders were wounded in the initial onslaught, according to the release.  “Jones seized the initiative and organized a counterattack,” the release said. Dodging close-range fire from an enemy only 20 meters away, Jones made his way to the French special operator. Once alongside the wounded man, Jones used grenades and his rifle to suppress the enemy long enough to drag the French fighter to safety, the release said. Once the French special operator was safely behind cover waiting medical evacuation, Jones turned his attention to the two Raiders, who had fallen down a ravine after being wounded in the initial attack.

Those Raiders, Capt. Moises A. Navas and Gunnery Sgt. Diego D. Pongo, died as a result of their wounds, Maj. Hector Infante, a MARSOC spokesman, confirmed to Marine Corps Times Thursday. “I just knew that they wouldn’t have quit for me, so I am not going to quit,” Jones said in the video. Ultimately, additional forces were sent to the area to help push back the ISIS fighters and recover Navas and Pongo, Marine Corps Times previously reported.  Though he was unable to rescue the two Raiders, Jones aggressively fought to drive the enemy back so their bodies could be recovered, the release said.

“With rounds impacting all around him, Jones continued to engage the enemy at close range until he was driven back by a heavy volume of accurate enemy fire,” the release said. As the fight continued into its fifth hour, Jones once again launched an attack attempting to drive the enemy out of their barricaded position. During this third attack Jones was shot in the leg, the release said.  “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,” he said in the video.

Despite the wound, Jones refused treatment or pain medication, opting to remain in the fight until he was airlifted out, the release said. “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,” the release said. Jones has since medically retired from the Corps due to his injuries and started the Talons Reach Foundation in Montana, which is aimed at helping special operators recover from the mental, spiritual and physical toll of their service.

“As warriors we don’t always ask for help, but these injuries compound to a devastating effect on our quality of life,” the foundation’s website states.  “Our goal is to offer our nation’s SOF warriors an opportunity for sanctuary, mindfulness, and the tools and resources necessary to accelerate the path to recovery,” it added. 

According to Jones’ biography on the site, the Olathe, Kansas, native joined the Corps in 2010 after graduating early from his high school. His first unit was 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, based out of Camp Pendleton, California. He joined MARSOC in 2013 and was assigned to the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion after he concluded his training, the biography stated. Jones deployed five times during his Marine career, including three combat deployments. The attack on March 8, happened during his second deployment to Iraq, according to the biography.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger will present Jones with the Navy Cross during an Aug. 26 ceremony at Lejeune. “Jones will become the eight servicemember in MARSOC’s 15-year history to be awarded the Navy Cross as a result of his extraordinary heroic actions taken during Operation Inherent Resolve,” the release said.

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