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National Purple Heart Day: Gunnery Sgt. Frank Denault

By Lance Cpl. Alison Dostie | Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton | August 5, 2020


“We arrived in Sangin, Afganistan in late September of 2010 and started patrols after a relief in place at the start of October. Almost instantly our battalion was in some sort of contact daily. Two of my Marines were killed during an insider attack by an Afghan National Army soldier who went rogue and shot them in the back while they were standing post at Patrol Base Amoo. It was on November 4th… after something as serious as that, they pulled my squad out of our patrol base and back to a larger one in Sangin…

We weren’t supposed to be doing anything except for figuring out what happened and going through this interview process. We were just standing post at Forward Operating Base Nolay. I was the Sergeant of the Guard. I don’t even remember what day it was it was…the 20th or something of November, 2010. The watch officer called me to the COC to show me something suspicious from the cameras on the blimp,

‘Hey look, there’s a group of military aged males emplacing improvised explosive devises (IEDs) on route 611. There were like 3 blimps with sensors that could pull clear imagery throughout most of Sangin.’

They had eyes on three or four guys putting in IED’s right along route 611 which was like the main north-south running main supply route (MSR) there. They said, ‘Hey look, I know a lot of your guys are on post. Just grab whoever’s not on post and kind of just hodge-podge people and go out and interdict these guys.’

So I’m like, okay, I have to look at the blimp feed. I grabbed my radio and grabbed whatever team leader was not on post. I grabbed a couple Marines that were not on post, grabbed some motor-t guys, and I just like threw together this patrol. I gave a quick brief and organized the patrol prior to departing.

We go out and we interdict these guys. Immediately they start shooting at us, we start shooting at them, they take off running and then we confirm. Yep, here’s their digging equipment, here’s their IED’s. They took off, now we're just waiting on Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and I’m the only one with a radio for about two hours.

So, we set vehicle control points on the north and south side of the 611. We detained one of the individuals that was there with them. He was an older guy, maybe 50. He was obviously with them, but he didn’t run. I’m putting him between myself and what we call the green zone at the time, which was the fertile land in Sangin where you could grow crops.

I kept seeing this guy… he was turkey-peeking around this building, and I knew something didn’t seem right. So, I kept the guy standing up, I knew he was involved. He kept trying to get away, asked if he could leave, and I kept telling him no.

Finally, I let him sit down, and as soon as I let him sit down that’s when those guys, or whoever was turkey peeking around that corner, they shot three 30 mm rifle grenades - kind of like our 40 mm M203 grenades. They hit the berm right behind me. They were aiming obviously at me because I was the only one with a radio. They shot at a berm that was behind me and sent shrapnel into my face, neck and back.

Right as they did that, EOD pulled up. EOD grabbed me and threw me in their MRAP. I was shocked, I was stunned. It blew my flak jacket open a little bit just from the pressure, I guess the concussion. They pulled me in their vehicle, my legs were soaking wet. I thought… ‘Oh, did I lose my legs?’ and they said, ‘No.’ When they pulled me into their vehicle I just knocked over their bottled water, so it got my legs all wet. I was happy about that that I didn’t lose my legs since that was the most common injury in Sangin during that time.

The minor injuries I sustained that day were insignificant to what many of our Marines lived through and still live through today. I am lucky to be the only Marine to receive such minor injuries that day. Injuries that did not prohibit me from returning to patrol and focusing on the Marines under my charge and the mission moving forward. After that day, our battalion continued to face fierce fighting until April of 2011, when we were relived and returned home. I am very humbled and grateful for all of the Marines that contributed to complete the mission during that specific deployment.”