Retired  Staff Sgt. Eric Smith has received the Navy Cross after his Silver Star was upgraded to the U.S. military’s second-highest valor award. 

Smith was initially awarded the Silver Star for his actions on April 6, 2004, when his squad was urgently sent to help Marines under heavy enemy fire in Ramadi, Iraq. He was serving as a corporal at the time.

“All hell broke loose,” Smith told Marine Corps Times in 2006. “We took fire from every angle. [Rocket-propelled grenades] were flying in. I remember a group of insurgents about 50 feet away shooting heavy machine guns. It became a full-scale battle.”

When his platoon commander was hit, Smith assumed command and led his platoon to covered positions. He then ran through intense rifle and machine gun fire to get his wounded platoon commander to safety and organized a counterattack against the insurgent forces.

After the battle, Smith learned that his platoon commander had died while on a helicopter to Baghdad.

Smith received his upgraded award on Thursday. He is one of only 40 Marines to receive the Navy Cross since Sept. 11, 2001, a Marine Corps news release says.

“I am honored and humbled to receive the upgraded award of the Navy Cross,” Smith said on Thursday. “I understand that this places me in a category of Marines that I would have never imagined to be a part of. I firmly believe that I was an ordinary Marine placed in an extraordinary situation.”

Mackenzie Wolf is an editorial intern for Military Times.

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