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Captain William T. Paxton, an F-18 pilot with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251, was awarded the Bronze Star medal with a combat distinguishing device during an award ceremony aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, May 5. While serving with 2nd Battalion 8th Marines as the forward air controller, Paxton spent five hours calling in accurate air strikes on enemy targets, allowing his small command element to escape and evacuate an injured Marine.

Photo by Cpl. Brendan Roethel

Thunderbolt earns Bronze Star

8 May 2014 | Cpl. Brendan Roethel Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort

As enemy fire pinned him down in a shallow ditch, Capt. William Paxton, a forward air controller serving with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, II Marine Expeditionary Force, spent five hours calling in air strikes while deployed to Afghanistan last year.

Paxton’s actions were well-deserving of the Bronze Star with a combat distinguishing device, the nation’s fourth-highest award for combat heroism, awarded to him at a ceremony aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, May 5.

On Aug. 22, 2013, Paxton was part of a small command element inserted into enemy territory. Paxton was pinned down by enemy fire, and began directing accurate air strikes onto the enemy. After a Marine fell wounded, Paxton continued to call in air strikes allowing the Marine to be evacuated while neutralizing the enemy.

"We inserted there early in the morning, and we extracted just before dusk that evening," said Paxton, now serving as an F/A-18 Hornet pilot with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251, Marine Aircraft Group 31 aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. "Once [the enemy] saw where we were, they started to move around. Before we knew it, we were pinned down in a fire fight. We hid behind anything we could and fired back for several long hours."

During the conflict, Paxton continued directing air strikes, allowing his team to move to a safe area.

"I only played a small part in that. I was just doing my job, just doing what I was trained to do," said Paxton, a native of Meyersdale, Pa. "Even when the bullets were flying we took cover and kept pushing. I just kept my thoughts on the here and now. I couldn’t let myself think about anything else. I had to stay focused."

In all, the air strikes Paxton called in killed nine enemy fighters, destroyed a Taliban prison and demolished an untold amount of enemy ordinance. Aside from the wounded Marine who was evacuated, no one else was injured.

Paxton deployed to Afghanistan in May 2013, his second deployment since joining the Marine Corps in 2005. During his first deployment, he served in an aircraft support role, firing on targets marked by ground controllers. While serving with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, Paxton was deployed from May to October 2013, serving as the forward air controller on 10 operations. Through his dedication to duty, Paxton neutralized 15 enemy fighters and helped provide cover for six medical evacuations from the accurate air support.

"I am not the real hero. All of the men I was pinned down with were heroes that day," Paxton said. "I will never forget them or what we accomplished that day, and I’m honored to have earned this award."