At the end of an all-day fight, more than 50 Taliban were dead, scores were retreating, and the Marines took control of a key supply route through the village of Shewan, Afghanistan.
Blonder said it was what he came to do, and it’s what Marines do best – kill the enemy. And his unit did that exceptionally well that even though the Taliban outnumbered the Marines roughly eight to one.
For thriving in the face of danger, Blonder, a native of Deer Beach, Fla., was awarded the Navy Cross during a ceremony at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., May 10. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus presented the award and said Blonder is “one of the most selfless and disciplined Marines” he’s ever met.
“He’ll be remembered for this for generations,” Mabus said. “His attack was relentless. The insurgents grew afraid.”
Blonder deployed to Afghanistan in the summer of 2008 with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. As a reconnaissance Marine by trade, he was serving as platoon sergeant for Force Reconnaissance Platoon, a group of 30 Marines, who were attached to the battalion’s Company G.
The firefight began when Marines and Afghan National Police were patrolling in Shewan, Afghanistan, a desert village in southern Afghanistan closer to the Iranian border, late morning Aug. 8, 2008. Blonder and Force Recon Platoon, along with an equal-sized element from Company G, were patrolling the village streets, anticipating enemy activity. Blonder and his Marines entered the village from its eastern border, while the Company G Marines entered from the North.
Taliban insurgents had control of the village and were known to man fighting positions along Route 517, a major roadway in southern Afghanistan.
Blonder said Afghan National Police had previously reported heavy resistance from insurgents in the village, to include many roadside bombs on Route 517. The Marines’ mission was to gain control of the roadway, rid the village of Taliban, and help the Afghan police establish a presence in the village.
The Marines planned weeks in advance for a sure fight when they stepped foot into Shewan. Blonder wasn’t surprised when he saw the inhabitants had either left or stayed inside their homes.
“It’s standard when Marines or coalition forces enter towns with insurgents that the local populace don’t come out,” Blonder said.
Force Recon Platoon patrolled for three hours before the first shot was fired. Taliban fighters, who were hidden in a drainage trench, fired an RPG at Blonder and his crew. Chief Petty Officer Joe Martin, the platoon’s Navy corpsman, spotted the enemy through the smoke trail of the RPG.
Blonder and Martin dropped into the trench, which the three-man enemy RPG team used as a getaway path, and pursued the attackers.
“At one point, one of them kind of popped up and silhouetted himself. So, I shot that guy and killed him. The other two continued on down the trench line,” Blonder said.
A four-man team of Marines, lead by Gunnery Sgt. Garrett Dean, supported the pursuit by flanking the enemy’s escape.
The pursuit ended in minutes when the two insurgents where killed by Dean’s team.
When intense small arms fire and explosions erupted nearby, Blonder and his men moved to the sound of the fight. Taliban had ambushed the Company G Marines and were in multiple fortified fighting positions firing a barrage of RPGs. Blonder’s team rescued a destroyed humvee’s occupants and withdrew to a safe area away from Taliban gunfire.
Blonder repositioned his outnumbered Marines, and in direct, close combat, maneuvered against the enemy.
Through Blonder’s order, the aggressiveness of the Marines, and their leaders’ selfless actions and initiative, a unit of approximately 30 Marines ousted a force of an estimated 250 Taliban combatants – some intelligence reports claimed there were as many as 500 insurgents. Blonder’s planned flanking attacks slowly but surely gained more and more territory that was once occupied by Taliban insurgents earlier in the day.
The Marines’ assault was also bolstered by mortar and air support. Several 500 to 1,000-pound bombs were dropped on enemy positions.
“Our goal was to push the enemy out of their trenches,” said Blonder. “We kept pressing the attack until we did just that.”
More than 50 insurgents were confirmed dead and numerous more were wounded, while the Marines suffered no losses. Blonder was personally responsible for killing at least three that day.
Fighting ceased by sunset when the enemy had either fled or were killed.
Blonder said he was happy to be victorious.
“When it was all over with, and I was standing on the battlefield and the enemy was gone, I had a great sense of pride and accomplishment,” Blonder said. “When you’re not standing on the ground of the enemy at the end of the day, the enemy won. Instead, we took the stand, we drove the enemy out of their homes, and then we left on our own terms when we were ready to.”
Many Marines who participated in the battle were awarded with medals for valor.
“When you inflict that number of casualties on the enemy and none of us were killed, that’s a pretty successful fight,” said Martin. “The more chaotic things got, the more calm and on point [Blonder] was. I don’t think I’ll ever have another platoon sergeant like Gunny Blonder.”
Their mission of seizing control of Shewan’s portion of Route 517 and ridding insurgents from the village was accomplished. In fact, Blonder said he hadn’t heard of Marines or coalition forces receiving any more casualties in that area from insurgents during the rest of the deployment. The victory disrupted several Taliban unit networks, which Blonder said crippled Taliban spirits in southern Afghanistan.
“Our number one job is to locate, close with and kill the enemy,” said Dean. “What we did that day is what we trained for, and that’s what we’ll always do.”
Blonder remembers the triumphant and tiring day vividly. From the rifle fire Sgt. Frank Simmons bestowed upon the enemy, killing “countless” insurgents with single shots to the head or chest, to the accurate sniper fire of Staff Sgt. Richard Powell, Blonder said he’ll wear the Navy Cross as a representation of the Marines he fought alongside that day.
“It was a busy day,” Blonder said. “Every Marine out there was a huge part of that fight. From the NCO (noncommissioned officer) leadership all the way up to the officer leadership – everyone contributed all they had to that fight.”