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Navy chief receives Silver Star for saving comrades during firefight

A Navy chief was awarded the Silver Star Thursday for risking his own life to save the lives of two comrades during a firefight last year.

Chief Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Matthew O’Connor displayed battlefield valor while assigned to a special operations task force in mid-April.

Navy officials have declined to say where the actions took place, but a press release states O’Connor was deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the anti-Islamic State campaign in Iraq and Syria.

On the night of April 18 to April 19, O’Connor and the team moved into an enemy-held village and assaulted what they believed was a facility where improvised explosive devices were assembled, according to the citation.

“They were taken under fire by eight enemy fighters and sustained a number of casualties,” the citation continues.

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician 1st Class Jeffrey Thomas stands at attention alongside Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran after being awarded the Silver Star (MC3 Christopher A. Veloicaza).
EOD petty officer awarded Silver Star

Thomas was presented with the award for his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.”

After returning fire, O’Connor noticed a wounded teammate who was exposed to enemy fire.

“With utter disregard for his own safety, Chief O’Connor advanced forward, carried his wounded teammate to cover, and then rendered lifesaving medical treatment while coordinating suppressive fire,” the citation states.

O’Connor exposed himself to enemy fire a second time to rescue and retrieve a wounded U.S. linguist.

“He then carried the first teammate under continuous enemy fire through difficult terrain to the casualty collection point,” the citation states. “Chief O’Connor returned to the target area, conducted post assault procedures, and guided the remaining combined task force through difficult terrain laden with improvised explosive devices to reach the vehicle pickup location.”

“By his bold initiative, undaunted courage, and total dedication to duty, Chief O’Connor reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

U.S. 3rd Fleet commander, Vice. Adm. Scott Conn, presented the medal to O’Connor during a ceremony at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego.

A Navy public affairs officer told Navy Times that O’Connor declined an interview request, but the chief said in a prepared statement that he was honored to receive the Silver Star and appreciated the recognition.

“I want people to know that it took a whole group of guys to ensure everyone returned safely,” he said. “I was not the only one out there, and this is reflective of a team effort.”

The Silver Star is the third-highest personal combat decoration that can be awarded to U.S. military members.

O’Connor enlisted in 2008 and was assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11 in Imperial Beach, California, in 2017.

He pinned on anchors in 2018, according to his service record.

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