MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. (Jan. 18, 2011) --
Heroism is often the result of instinct, instilled in Marines from their creation by the intellectual branding of the heroic stories from the likes of Chesty Puller, Dan Daly and Jason Dunham. All of whom are etched in Marine Corps lore because of their unrivaled acts of courage and initiative.
Carrying the Corps’ tradition of excellence in 2010 were eight 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Marines, who went above and beyond with heroic acts of their own. 2nd MAW’s commanding general, Maj. Gen. Jon M. Davis, hosted the Marines at his home aboard Cherry Point Jan. 18 for a home-cooked meal at the hands of celebrity chef Rick Tarantino.
Tarantino arrived in town the day of the event and said he felt honored to be able to share the momentous occasion with the Marines.
“This was a treat for me,” explained Tarantino, who regularly appears on the Home Shopping Network. “Giving back and cooking for the men and women who protect our country is my privilege.”
The eight Marines represented all of 2nd MAW, from Marine Corps Air Stations New River and Cherry Point, N.C., as well as MCAS Beaufort, S.C.
About 30 minutes before the Marines arrived at Davis’s home, Sgt. Maj. Susan M. Bellis, 2nd MAW’s sergeant major, met with the Marines to discuss the evening’s event.
“Welcome to our home – your home,” Davis said upon greeting each of the eight Marines. “This evening is for you. Tonight we join in the company of heroes with some of the finest in Marine Corps values.”
The Marines quickly felt at home, and Davis introduced them to his wife, Carol, and everybody in attendance who helped make the night possible.
The arrangements to bring in Tarantino were facilitated by Davis and Paul Chapa, who Davis met at a Marine Corps ball in Texas back in November of 2010. Chapa and Tarantino are good friends and work together, so everything lined up.
“There was a lot going on at times,” said Chapa, managing partner for Frozen & Dairy Buyer, a national food vendor magazine. “We wondered if we’d be able to pull this off,” Chapa added. “He was on TV yesterday, but he dropped everything to come out here.”
Chapa said all of the food was donated by Harris Teeter in New Bern.
Time was not a factor as the Marines indulged in gourmet appetizers consisting of shrimp in homemade cocktail sauce, as well as tenderloin toast bites.
After about an hour of socializing and acquainting with one another, the Marines began to make their way to the dining room where they seated at a long, five-star attired dining room table.
“Welcome to our table,” Davis said, before abruptly assuring the Marines the house is not haunted. “If you feel bumps underneath the table, it’s probably one of two things – Lucy or Noah – they’re our Golden Retrievers, and they’re not Marine dogs, we can’t discipline them.”
Laughter followed, but Davis quickly turned the focus back to the Marines.
“This is the highlight of our evening,” said Davis, “sharing this meal and why each of you are here tonight.”
Tarantino, with help from two Marine Corps chefs, began serving the Marines the first of their multiple courses of their meal.
“Please dig in,” said Davis.
In order, Tarantino treated the guests with handmade fresh tomato and mozzarella stacks, drizzled in thick, sweet balsamic sauce; angel hair pasta tossed with homemade pesto, asiago cheese and Maryland mussels sauteed in garlic and white wine; and the entree, a two-inch fresh cut, grilled pork chop served over Yukon smashed potatoes with roasted garlic and heavy cream and butter, with a side of white and green asparagus.
Dessert was what Tarantino called a New England treat, whoopee pie, which consisted of cherry rum sauce, whip cream, cocoa powder with brown sugar and to ensure its sweetness, he added extra chocolate chips.
Davis and the Marines agreed they had never had a more tasteful meal.
“This was something you won’t get at the chow hall,” Davis added.
He then stood from his chair and stated, “one Marine at a time,” as he began to make his way to each Marine around the table to hear their courageous stories, while reiterating that it only takes one Marine at a time to make a difference.
Cpl. Benjamin I. Stellick, a 22-year-old armorer with Marine Aircraft Group 14 at Cherry Point, was the first Marine Davis spoke of.
“This Marine was on point in the middle of the night at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan,” Davis said of Stellick.
Stellick and his gunnery sergeant at the time were both injured from a fragmentation grenade thrown by an insurgent May 19, 2010, shortly after Stellick sounded an alarm across the compound. By sounding the alarm, Stellick prevented an insurgent intrusion that may have resulted in grave damage, Davis explained.
“It was the fastest my gunnery sergeant said he ever saw me run,” said Stellick. “I guess I did what I was supposed to do.”
Sgt. Emerita L. Torres is a 25-year-old food service specialist with Marine Wing Support Group 27 at Cherry Point. She witnessed a vehicle swerve toward oncoming traffic, before hitting a median and flipping upside down into a ditch Sept. 8, 2010.
Torres approached the vehicle and noticed the driver, who was pregnant, frantic and seemingly stuck. Torres immediately dialed 911 and with the help of a fellow Marine, pulled the pregnant driver from the vehicle to her feet, while trying to do her best to keep her calm.
“It’s not necessarily about just being a Marine,” explained Torres, “but a human being and putting yourself in another person’s shoes.
“Sgt. Cornett,” said Davis with his hand on Sgt. Thomas M. Cornett’s shoulder. Cornett is a 25-year-old technical research branch noncommissioned officer in charge for Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 29 at MCAS New River.
“Tell us what happened that night,” Davis told Cornett, who was sought for assistance from a fellow Marine on the brink of suicide in the summer of 2010.
Cornett said he received a frantic call from his Marine and he immediately got to the Marine’s side and stayed with him throughout the night. The Marine attributes Cornett to saving his life.
“I didn’t do it to be glorified, said Cornett. “I did it because that’s what we do as Marines – we look out for each other.”
Cpl. Frine A. Miranda is a 25-year-old avionics technician with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162 at MCAS New River.
“This Marine also saved a Marine’s life by preventing him from committing suicide,” Davis said.
Miranda was a having a text message conversation with her fellow Marine, when she felt the conversation take a sudden turn.
Miranda noticed the signs of suicide and quickly got the help the Marine needed.
“Every person matters,” said Miranda. “Being recognized tonight with these other Marines was amazing.”
Lance Cpl. Aaron W. Bidwell is a 21-year-old loadmaster with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 at Cherry Point.
Bidwell prevented a Marine from committing suicide after receiving a phone call from the Marine’s spouse Nov. 10, 2010. Bidwell went to the Marine’s side to calm him down by talking to him and helping him realize that suicide wasn’t the answer.
“Tonight is something I’ll never forget,” said Bidwell. “I just did what I feel any Marine would have done.”
Pfc. Darren A. Proctor is a 21-year-old administrative clerk with Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 2 at Cherry Point.
On Nov. 30, 2010, Proctor found a fellow Marine barely conscious after an attempt at suicide. Without hesitation, Proctor quickly sought help while doing his best to keep the Marine awake before she was taken to the hospital to receive further treatment.
“Being around Marines who the general considers heroes – I considered it a great honor,” said Proctor.
Lance Cpl. Saul Uriarte is a 23-year-old aircraft electrical systems technician with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 at MCAS Beaufort.
Uriarte got off of work the evening of Sept. 9, 2010, and upon entering his room, discovered what he believed to be an unauthorized substance. Uriarte reported the substance, which was later proven to be “Spice,” and an investigation lead to the apprehension of three Marines.
“This Marine from Beaufort is exactly what we look for in our Marines,” said Davis. “He rose against the tide and did what’s right, even when it wasn’t the most popular thing to do.”
Lance Cpl. Haley B. Whisenant is a 19-year-old radio operator with Marine Air Control Squadron 2 at Cherry Point. Whisenant identified signs of suicidal tendencies from a fellow Marine Nov. 29, 2010.
Whisenant called 911 and stayed by the Marine’s side until emergency medical technicians arrived.
“It was natural instinct, and there wasn’t any turning back,” said Whisenant. “To see someone higher up take this much interest in his lower ranking Marines means a lot.”
After hearing each story from the Marines, Davis and Bellis asserted their pride to be able to lead 2nd MAW.
“They’re all heroes,” Bellis said. “And there is more to being a hero than just physical courage, there is moral courage too, and it’s about doing the right thing every day.”
Davis added, “They all make it a pleasure to be a wing commander. Now the goal is for these eight Marines to spread their influence to eight more Marines, and eight more and so on.”