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Former Bemidji man's 'courageous actions' earn combat award

Gunnery Sgt. Earl Wakonabo, formerly of Bemidji, has received the Bronze Star with Combat "V" medal from the U.S. Marine Corps. Wakonabo, a 34-year-old force recon gunnery sergeant assigned to the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, received...

Wakonabo receives Bronze Star
Gunnery Sgt. Earl Wakonabo, formerly of Bemidji, receives the Bronze Star with Combat "V" award during a ceremony late last month. Above, 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion Major Andrew Christianson presents the award to Wakonabo, who was honored for actions during a tour in Afghanistan.

Gunnery Sgt. Earl Wakonabo, formerly of Bemidji, has received the Bronze Star with Combat "V" medal from the U.S. Marine Corps.

Wakonabo, a 34-year-old force recon gunnery sergeant assigned to the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, received the award Jan. 27 in San Diego.

Wakonabo, who lives in Oceanside, Calif., was stationed in Japan for more than four years and served two tours of duty in Iraq and three tours of duty in Afghanistan, according to this father, Gordon Wakonabo of St. Joseph, Minn.

The award represents heroic actions Wakonabo took Sept. 28, 2009, during a tour in Afghanistan.

A citation issued with the award presents the following account:

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"During a large scale systematic clearing operation of the Taliban stronghold of Shewan... Wakonabo led his element as well as a company-sized element of Afghan soldiers.

Immediately upon crossing the line of departure, his force encountered strong resistance from a determined enemy firing small arms, machine guns, rocket propelled grenades, recoilless rifles and precision fire.

"Wakonabo pushed the fight, leading his forces in clearing multiple compounds, directing the Afghan soldiers' action and coordinating with adjacent units to envelop the Taliban fighters."

It further goes on to describe Wakonabo's actions:

"When an element of his forces became pinned down by enemy fire... Wakonabo led from the front, exposing himself to an intense barrage of automatic and precision fire. With no regard for his personal safety, he continued to direct the actions of his forces while simultaneously utilizing smoke to mark friendly and enemy positions."

The citation said Wakonabo's "courageous actions and warrior spirit were instrumental in maintaining the momentum of the assault, ultimately leading to the successful clearing of the historic Taliban stronghold."

On Monday, Wakonabo said by phone that Shewan, a major supply route for two Afghan provinces, had long been a difficult target.

And he downplays his actions, which included running into the open, marking enemy positions and calling in air support to destroy them.

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"I wasn't doing it for glory," Wakonabo said. "I just did what I thought I needed to do for the safety of my men."

The citation said Wakonabo's "zealous initiative, courageous actions and exceptional dedication to duty ... reflected great credit" on himself, the Marines and U.S. Naval Service.

He has received 39 awards during his enlistment with the Marines since 1998.

Several family members and Wakonabo's unit attended the ceremony.

Wakonabo's brother Gabriel Wakonabo, a former Marine corporal and commander of the American Legion Post 14, and mother, Stella, live in Bemidji.

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