Staff Sgt. Sky R. Mote, 27, was killed Aug. 10, 2012, in a village in Helmand province when a uniformed Afghan policeman opened fire on Marines inside their tactical operations center. The Navy Cross will be awarded posthumously to Mote and Capt. Matthew P. Manoukian, 29, of Los Altos Hills, in a ceremony Saturday at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County. Both men were members of the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion and died in the same incident.
The Navy Cross is the second highest valor award, after the Medal of Honor, and must be approved by the secretary of the Navy before being awarded. Mote and Manoukian will become the third and fourth Marines in the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command’s seven-year history to be awarded the Navy Cross, and the 15th and 16th Marines to receive it for actions during Operation Enduring Freedom, according to a Marine Corps news release.
Mote and his colleagues were conducting village stability operations in Helmand province when they came under automatic small-arms fire from a rogue Afghan uniformed policeman who attacked from inside the center’s perimeter, according to the citation issued by the secretary of the Navy. Working in an adjoining room, Mote had not been seen by the attacker and could have left the building and escaped to safety.
“He instead grabbed his M4 rifle and entered the operations room, courageously exposing himself to a hail of gunfire in order to protect his fellow Marines,” reads the citation. “In his final act of bravery, he boldly engaged the gunman, now less than five meters in front of him, until falling mortally wounded.”
Mote’s actions assisted in halting the assault and forcing the attacker to withdraw, according to the citation, and enabled other Marines to make it to cover and survive.
Sky Mote had been in the Marines for nine years, joining after he graduated from Union Mine High School. He grew up in the town of El Dorado and attended Silva Valley Elementary and Rolling Hills Middle schools in El Dorado Hills. He joined the Marine Corps Special Operations Command in 2009 and had been in Afghanistan about four months before he was killed. He had previously served in Iraq.
The El Dorado County community turned out en masse in August 2012, lining the streets of El Dorado Hills as a motorcade bearing the young Marine’s body passed en route from McClellan Air Park to Green Valley Mortuary.
Mote’s father, Russ Mote, a science teacher at Rolling Hills Middle School, said he and his wife, Marcia, their extended family and friends will attend Saturday’s ceremony at Camp Pendleton.
Sky Mote’s older brother Tim, who is serving with the Army in Afghanistan, is being allowed to return home early so he can be present.
For the Motes, the award is bittersweet. They appreciate the recognition of their son’s selfless actions, “but it’s been hard because it brings everything back,” said Marcia Mote.
“It doesn’t surprise us,” she said. “It’s who Sky was. That’s what he did.”
Russ Mote said they have found comfort in their son’s Marine Corps family, which has embraced them over the past year. They were invited to attend the Marine Ball, and they have had an opportunity to meet with members of their son’s special operations team, including those who were involved in the fatal gun battle.
They have been particularly touched by those who recalled how Sky Mote influenced their lives through various acts of service and kindness.
Russ Mote said he was invited by a Marine wounded in the fight to join him in an Iron Man competition. The Motes participated in a 400-mile bicycle ride with the Free Wheel Foundation, which raised $464,000 to aid members of the military, their families and the families of military members who have been wounded or killed.
Russ Mote said his family is committed to continuing to support members of their son’s team and others as they continue their military careers or transition to civilian life.
“If we keep doing that,” he said, “we will keep Sky’s legacy alive.”