Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan and Staff Sgt. David Wyatt will be posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. The two Marine Corps noncommissioned officers died protecting others during a 2015 terrorist rampage in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This honor is reserved for for acts of non-combat heroism.
The Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the service’s highest award for non-combat heroism, is reserved for troops whose actions save the lives of others at risk to their own. Previous recipients have included troops who shielded others from live grenades in training, and a sailor who sacrificed his own life to protect a security guard who was under fire. Only about 3,000 of the medals have been awarded.
Sullivan and Wyatt were two of the five troops killed July 16, 2015, when Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez fired on two military installations: first a recruiting center, then a Navy Reserve Center. In the chaos and terror, both Marines relied on split-second judgment and bravery to save lives, according to multiple accounts.
Wyatt, a 37-year-old artilleryman assigned to Mike Battery, 3rd Battalion, 14th Marines, a Chattanooga-based Reserve unit, was at the Navy Reserve center when the shooter used his vehicle to ram through a security gate. He directed his junior Marines to go to a nearby park, round up the children there, and lead them to shelter, according to documents obtained by Marine Corps Times in 2015. Wyatt and three other Marines would be shot in a fenced motor pool area at the back of the complex, shortly before police shot and killed the murderer.
Sullivan, 40, was a two-time Purple Heart recipient and Iraq veteran also assigned to Mike Battery. He was running to save wounded colleagues in the Reserve center motor pool when he was felled by the shooter, according to an account from a fellow Marine, Sgt. Amanda Vincent, published in Masslive.com.
Vincent described Sullivan’s bravery, saying that he had a chance to jump the fence and run to safety, but opted to stay back and wait until the other Marines had gotten away. He and another Marine were about to enter the center when they got word the shooter had changed course and was coming out.
“They ran back to the Marines outside and [Sullivan] made sure they all jumped over the fence and got away,” Vincent said.
Wyatt and Sullivan, along with four other service members, were honored with the Purple Heart in 2016 after the FBI determined that Abdulazeez was “inspired by a foreign terror organization,” a criterion for non-combat recipients of the award.