Three weeks before a deployment to Iraq, Gunnery Sgt. Michael J. Mella became the commander of Weapons Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, at Camp Pendleton, Calif., a job normally filled by an officer.
Soon after arriving in Iraq, Mella was wounded by a roadside bomb that severely damaged both his hands, and he was medically evacuated to the United States, where he endured 12 surgeries.
But even as he healed back home, he continued to provide leadership to his unit, dictating letters to his Marines still in harm's way. He also visited other injured Marines while hospitalized and gave speeches to raise money for the Injured Marines Semper Fi Fund.
The only thing Master Sgt. Richard W. Tibbets has been doing longer than serving the Marine Corps is serving the Red Cross. The 22-year Marine veteran has been a Red Cross volunteer since age 15.
When Hurricane Charlie swept through his home state of Florida in September, Tibbets requested 21 days of leave to volunteer as an emergency response vehicle coordinator in Bradenton, Fla. He helped provide over 200,000 meals and 600,000 comfort kits to people in need before returning to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
His return was short-lived. Another hurricane hit the Southeast the day after his return and Tibbets was out the door, this time to Andalusia, Ala., and Auburndale, Fla., where he led 25 volunteers in their relief efforts.