MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- He watched as five Marines beside him dropped, struck by the sheer force of insurgent machine gun fire. Within seconds, Lance Cpl. Jeffrey Cole joined his brothers as a three-round burst lifted his 200-pound frame and 80 pounds of gear completely off the ground, moved him five feet in the air, and slammed him into the dirt– all in less than half a second.
The Woodstock, Ga., native had taken three rounds into the ceramic plates protecting his body from small-arms fire. He was down, but not wounded. The injured Marines made their way into a nearby canal for cover as Cole provided suppressive fire with his rifle. With half of the Marines on the patrol wounded, they tried calling for extraction on the radio, but couldn’t reach anyone. No help was on the way and approximately 20 insurgents entrenched only 30 meters from their position were headed in their direction and they were out for blood.
The morning of August 17, 2010 started early for Cole. He woke at 4 a.m. to stand four hours of guard duty. As he finished his time on post, an early morning patrol returned and he helped cook food for them before cleaning his rifle and restocking on water. He heard through the grapevine about another patrol going out soon and he wanted in on the action. In the three and a half weeks that his unit, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, had been in country, Cole had already been on 46 missions, luckily without incident.
The patrol that changed his life indefinitely consisted of six Marines from his squad as well as a Navy corpsman and three Marines from a Professional Mentor Team, a group primarily responsible for training and working with Afghan National Security Forces. It was a reconnaissance mission – to photograph the local landscape and populace and learn as much as they could about the area. At 1:30 p.m., the patrol made their way to a location they had been just the night before. They spoke with local Afghans and searched mud compounds. Around 3:30 p.m., they left the final compound; a crack of gunfire filled the air and they found themselves in the fight for their lives. The patrol was pinned down by heavy enemy fire; five Marines were wounded and they were unable to contact anyone on the radio.
“Thirty minutes into the firefight, I heard screams that the enemy was advancing toward us,” Cole said as he recounted his actions that day. “I took a machine gun from my buddy who was shot and gave him my rifle. I put the machine gun in my shoulder and started firing. Then I got up on the road and shot from my hip in a sweeping motion from left to right. I shot 150 rounds off, and as I did, I was shot three more times. A round hit my plates again and two rounds went through my arm.”
“This time it felt like a sunburn,” Cole said as he remembered the feeling of the rounds penetrating his arm. “My bone vibrated and severed my nerve and blew out the inside of my upper arm, I couldn’t feel anything. It spun me around and threw me into the ditch.”
Immediately the Marines put a tourniquet on the wounded Cole in an effort to stop the bleeding. As the sixth injured service member, the Marines knew they had to move – quickly. They made their way into a nearby compound as enemy fire dug into the mud walls. The enemy was advancing and all Cole could hear were the calls over the radio.
“All channels, anywhere, anything around us that can receive us – we need help now!”
Another tourniquet and a pressure dressing were applied to his arm, but he was still losing blood – time was running out. Despite his grievous wounds, Cole continued to provide accurate suppressive fire on the enemy making sure the Marines on patrol remained covered and safe.
As if by some miracle, the sound of attack helicopters broke through the cloud of gunfire. The Marines, running low on ammunition and badly wounded, continued to return fire as their air support offered protection for a medical evacuation. A British CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter landed under heavy fire from the nearby insurgents. The Marines, supporting one another, staggered toward the rescue helicopter in the midst of enemy fire and climbed aboard.
Cole was flown to Camp Bastion where he immediately went into surgery. Nearly 18 hours later he was stabilized. The call that he was injured went out to his family and his brother was grateful that his older sibling hadn’t been more seriously wounded.
“My mom called me at work and told me I needed to come home,” said 20-year-old Perris Cole. “The first thing I asked was, ‘Is he alive?’ she said, ‘Yeah,” and then we had to wait six or seven days for him to get back to the states. We were just impatient, waiting. I was scared, but I was just happy he was alive.”
After a short stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Cole joined the Wounded Warrior Battalion – East on Camp Lejeune and began the journey to recovery.
Cole was awarded the Silver Star, the Nation’s third highest award for valor July 10 for his actions that day. He adamantly admits that he is not a hero and that when he decided to stand up on that road, he was just doing his job.
“I don’t think I deserve it,” Cole mentioned. “Nothing I did comes close to the Marines I was with. Pinned down in a ditch, wounded, they fought for an hour against an enemy that got within 30 meters. Not once did they waiver. This award isn’t my award. It’s their award and all the guys who we lost who can’t wear it now, I’ll wear it for them since they can’t.”