Tell us about your Combat Action Ribbon. What’s the story behind it?

I actually prefer not to talk about it, but I get asked about it all the time, so here goes…

My Platoon (3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines) took part in Operation Silver Wake in 1997.

Operation Silver Wake primarily involved the evacuation of U.S. citizens from Tirana, Albania.

Basically, the government of Albania — a small country near Bosnia — nearly collapsed after its finances plummeted. Much of its police force and military called it quits after not getting paid and shortly thereafter, the public took over several military bases and armed themselves. None of this would have mattered — after all, who even knows where Albania is? — except that we had about a thousand Americans trapped there, as well as an Embassy to protect.

So, with the Albanian military and police force essentially gone, these Americans were unprotected and in great danger.

Our platoon flew in and helped secure the Embassy and the State Dept Compound. We took some fire going in. We took some fire while we were there. And like all combat situations, the pure holy-shit moments were interspersed among hours of complete boredom and misery — it was freezing and raining, so we spent much of time standing in muddy fighting positions.

I was 19 and I thought it was a huge deal. (No, I mean like a HUGE deal.) We put ourselves in harm’s way and left thinking we’d be hailed heroes.

We returned home to find out that few knew what we had done, and even fewer cared.