CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Two Marines killed in an insider attack in Afghanistan were posthumously awarded on Saturday the Navy Cross, the service branch's top award and second only to the Medal of Honor.
Capt. Matthew Manoukian and Staff Sgt. Sky Mote were killed in 2012 after an Afghan police officer armed with an AK-47 burst into their military outpost in Helmand province and opened fire, killing Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Jeschke.
Manoukian and Mote confronted the intruder and shot back, allowing other Marines to escape, the Marine Corps said.
Manoukian, a 29-year-old team commander, was working in the operations center when he heard shots tearing through the walls. He grabbed his pistol and fired at the policeman while directing others to safety.
Mote, a 27-year-old explosive ordnance disposal technician, was working nearby and ran to the operations center.
"In his final act of bravery, he boldly remained in the open and engaged the shooter, no less than five meters in front of him," the Marine Corps said in a statement.
The men were from Northern California -- Mote was from El Dorado and Manoukian was from Los Altos Hills -- and were part of the 1st Marines Special Operations Battalion. They were the 15th and 16th Marines to receive the Navy Cross, the Navy's highest honor and the military's second-highest medal of valor in combat.
Members of the battalion reunited for the ceremony, where Maj. Gen. Mark Clark, commanding general of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, presented the cross to Mote's and Manoukian's families, U-T San Diego reported.
Clark said the men were participating in the command's new strategy of building relationships with tribal leaders and Afghan security forces to stabilize the Puzeh area. The approach exposed them to greater danger, Clark said.
"The bravery of Matt, Ryan and Sky was a continuation of the brave choices they made in the beginning, to choose a harder road fraught with peril, in order to have a chance at victory," Clark said.
"Their efforts and their sacrifice were not in vain," he added. "Puzeh is still stable today."
Statistics compiled by The Associated Press showed that while violence in Afghanistan fell in 2012, insider killings by uniformed Afghans against their foreign allies rose dramatically.