CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Going to Iraq wasn't as strange an experience for Lance Cpl. Justin S. Bailey as it was for his fellow Marines of 2nd Amphibious Assault Battalion. By the time he turned 21, he had been all over the world.
With both of his parents in the Marine Corps, he'd lived in a few different countries by the time he finished high school. Nothing he experienced as a Marine Corps family member prepared him for what he would face on the streets of An Nasiriyah during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"We had just loaded wounded Army soldiers into our amphibious assault vehicle, and we were moving forward into the city," said Bailey, then a crewman with A Company, 2nd Amphibious Assault Battalion. "We were taking heavy fire from rocket propelled grenades, snipers, and other small arms fire the whole time."
Bailey's vehicle approached an American AAV which had been torn apart by two direct hits from RPGs. Although all of Bailey's team made it safely through the city and the remainder of the fighting, others were not so lucky. Two Marines from his battalion did not survive the encounter.
"We saw a lot of enemy resistance in (An Nasiriyah)'. When we came upon the destroyed vehicle, there were wounded inside," said 1st Lt. Keith C. Brenize, a platoon commander with A Company. The Newville, Penn., native, continued, "One of our gunnery sergeants was pulling the wounded out, when he saw that one of the M-2 .50 caliber machine guns on the vehicle was functional."
One of the platoon's vehicle's machine guns was inoperable, and the team needed every weapon it could get to continue the fight. Once informed of the functional weapon, Bailey stepped into action.
"Under heavy fire, Lance Corporal Bailey crossed 'ambush alley' and took the machine gun from the torn up vehicle, crossed back under fire, delivered the .50 cal., and then crossed back under fire again to return to his vehicle," said Brenize.
Bailey's actions earned him a Navy Achievement Medal with a Combat V insignia, indicating the medal was presented for valor in combat. Presented to him recently in front of his proud parents, they were very happy to see their son decorated.
"Parents are always proud of their children, but we are especially proud today," said Bailey's parents, Capt. Jeff Bailey and Master Sgt. Tina Bailey.
"Growing up with it, I always knew what the Marine Corps life was about, but now I have even more appreciation for the people who've guided me," said Bailey.
Bailey credits his platoon commander, Brenize, for bringing him out of Iraq alive.
"I've got so many people who've looked after me in my life. I've got a lot to be thankful for," Bailey said. "This award belongs to them as much as it does me," he added.