MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
In September 2009, during grenade training, a Marine combat instructor gave the command “throw grenade,” to a student. The student froze while holding the live grenade.
Teaching Marines how to operate and fire different weapons systems may not be the safest job and at times, can even be life-threatening. For the combat instructors who teach and train new Marines the basic fundamentals of fighting in combat, their jobs may require them to put their lives on the line to keep another Marine alive.
This is was the case for Sgt. William Holls, a combat instructor, then with Company E, Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry – East aboard Camp Geiger, on Sept. 28, 2009, while he was the grenade pit noncommissioned officer in charge for Range K510, Pit 2.
For his quick and immediate reaction to danger that day, without any regard for his own life, Holls was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal during a ceremony aboard Camp Geiger, July 15. The Navy and Marine Corps Medal is a medal awarded to Navy and Marine Corps service members who display an act of heroism in a non-combat role, involving the risk to one’s own life.
“It was just another grenade day; we were about half way done (with the training) and this guy comes up to my pit,” said Holls. “So I ran through with him, the same thing that I do with the rest of the Marines. And since (the students) are usually nervous, you try to calm them down, and I could tell he was nervous.”
Holls said he asked the Marine questions to try and calm him down as they waited for their turn in the pit.
“When it was our turn, I had him stand up, face me and told him ‘take grenade,’” said Holls. “So he took the grenade out from his pouch, then I made sure he was holding it properly. I hold out my hand and tell him to ‘twist, pull pin and place them all in my hand.’ From there I told him, ‘prepare to throw,’ and he did not do it. He hesitated. So then I said it again … ‘prepare to throw.’ And that time he went to the ‘prepare to throw’ position. When I said ‘throw grenade,’ he didn’t throw, so I said it again and that’s when I saw his hand starting to loosen, and I went to grab his hand. When I did that, he freaked out and dropped the grenade.”
Holls said at that point, the pressure begins to be released from the handle on the grenade, it engages the fuse on the grenade, and then there is a three- to five-second window before the grenade detonates.
“I yelled, ‘Grenade! Grenade! Grenade!’” said Holls. “Then I picked up the Marine, threw him out of the pit, covered him up (with myself) and waited for the explosion. Once the grenade detonated, everything flew past us, and then I picked up the Marine by his Kevlar and asked him if he was alive. He said yes. Then I asked him if he was hit. He said ‘yes.’”
At that point, both Holls and the Marine had received shrapnel to their bodies. Holls ignored his own injuries and proceeded to apply first aid to the Marine’s right leg until the corpsman arrived. Neither of the injuries were life-threatening and both recovered quickly and went back to training.
“The Navy and Marine Corps Medal is known as the lifesaving medal and that is exactly what Sgt. Holls did,” said Gunnery Sgt. Steven Davis, company gunnery sergeant with Company E, ITB, SOI – East. “Sgt. Holls is an outstanding person and Marine. He plays hard and trains hard, but most importantly, he really cares about his job and his Marines. He is always the first to arrive in the morning, the last to leave in the evenings and the first person to correct a Marine when they need it.”
Holls said while it was an honor to receive the award, his main mission stayed the same – to train Marines to fight in battle and save their brothers-in-arms.
“I was just doing my job,” said Holls. “Medals don’t make Marines, but it is nice to get recognized as a combat instructor and for what we have to do at times.”