ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The U.S. military’s top-tier awards recognize sacrifice, commitment, duty and honor, says Albuquerque native Mark Donald, who received both the Silver Star and Navy Cross for his heroic actions in Afghanistan.
And those values “are in the culture of New Mexico,” he said.
In fact, Albuquerque has more recipients of the top three military awards since 9/11 than any city in the nation, according to Doug Sterner, a Vietnam veteran who has spent 15 years compiling an exhaustive list of recipients of top-tier U.S. military awards.
Find the stories of these and other decorated veterans at militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards
Curator of the online Military Times Hall of Valor, Sterner has focused his efforts on compiling the most comprehensive and accurate record available for soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors who have received the nation’s top three military awards for valor: the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Crosses – which include the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy/U.S. Marine Corps’ Navy Cross and the Air Force Cross – and Silver Stars.
“Frankly, when I stumbled on this while working on the (Global War on Terror) data and saw that our neighbor just south of us, Albuquerque, had such an incredible record in the current wars, I was really surprised,” Sterner, a longtime resident of Pueblo, Colo., said in a recent interview from his current home in Alexandria, Va.
According to Sterner’s research, six Albuquerque servicemen have received five Silver Stars and two Navy Crosses since 9/11 – beating out New York City, which has six such awards, and Los Angeles and Houston, which have five apiece.
Sterner called Navy Lt. Donald one of the most decorated heroes of the War on Terror. He said he received a Silver Star for heroic actions in Afghanistan in November 2003, and a Navy Cross for actions there 16 days earlier.
Donald, a 1985 Del Norte High School graduate who retired from the Navy in 2010 and now lives in Virginia, said in a telephone interview that he wasn’t surprised by Albuquerque’s standing.
He said he thinks the multicultural nature of the city and the state play a role in New Mexico’s historically high rate of military service and its subsequently high number of military awards.
The blended cultures of New Mexico – Anglo, Hispanic, Native American, African American – emphasize close family ties, he said, and the values taught within those families are carried onto the battlefield.
The valor medals, he said, are “a recognition of sacrifice, commitment, duty and honor.”
“Aren’t those the same things we’re taught in our homes?” he said. His mother, he said, taught her children to “always take care of others.”
As a Navy SEAL and battlefield medical officer, Donald had the opportunity to put that motto into action.
Donald is credited with saving the lives of U.S. and Afghan soldiers when their convoy was hit by rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire on Oct. 25, 2003. According to his Navy Cross citation, he pulled wounded soldiers from disabled vehicles and treated their wounds while returning fire. He then took charge of an Afghan squad in disarray and directed them in breaking up the ambush while treating the wounded and arranging a medevac.
That afternoon, his unit was attacked again. Despite heavy fire, he ran 200 meters to treat two wounded soldiers. Knowing his troops were in dangerously close range of attacking U.S. helicopters, Donald – himself wounded by shrapnel – led the unit in a fighting withdrawal and coordinated another medevac mission before treating his own wounds.
Sixteen days later, another of Donald’s patrol convoys was attacked.
According to the citation for his Silver Star, the vehicle ahead of his was disabled by enemy fire, so Donald jumped out of his vehicle and provided cover fire until the soldiers in the disabled vehicle could escape.
He then took charge of the Afghan soldiers, directed fire against the attackers and got the convoy moving again, driving the lead vehicle himself. Once the convoy got to a relatively safe area, Donald began treating a wounded Afghan soldier and arranged his medical evacuation.
The other Albuquerque recipients are:
♦ Marine Lance Cpl. Christopher S. Adlesperger, 20, who died Dec. 9, 2004, in Iraq. Adlesperger received a posthumous Navy Cross.
New Mexico is also home to seven other servicemen who received a top-three military award for actions in the Global War on Terror, including Army Staff Sergeant Leroy A. Petry of Santa Fe, who received a Medal of Honor for heroic actions on May 26, 2008, in Afghanistan’s Paktya Province.
Those medals also include four Silver Stars and two Navy Crosses.
Sterner has been researching military awards, in part because the Department of Defense has never compiled that information and because Pueblo had the distinction of being home to four living Medal of Honor recipients.
“I had been doing this for almost a decade on my own at a private website, and Military Times saw the value and importance of it,” Sterner, 62, said.
Four years ago Military Times – a Gannett company that publishes the news weeklies Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times – bought Sterner’s database and made him curator of its online Hall of Valor. Sterner moved to Alexandria two years ago to be closer to the military archives that he pores over daily.
Among Pueblo’s Medal of Honor recipients is Gerald R. “Jerry” Murphy, a longtime New Mexico resident who died April 6, 2007. The Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center here is named for Murphy, who went by the nickname Jerry.
Murphy received his Medal of Honor for heroic actions in the Korean War.
The Department of Defense lists a service member’s “official” hometown as the place where he or she enlisted, not necessarily where they were born or raised.
In July, the Pentagon launched the website valor.defense.gov, that lists Medal of Honor, service crosses and Silver Star recipients since Sept. 11, 2001.
Sterner, however, has documented more than 117,000 military citations dating back to the Civil War, including all post-9/11 Medals of Honor and Distinguished Service Crosses. His database of post 9/11 Silver Stars, he said, is about 99 percent complete.
The searchable data base can be found at www.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal