Pinned down by enemy gunfire in Afghanistan, Capt. William Paxton spent five hours calling in air strikes as bullets flew into the shallow ditch he and his squad had dug into.
A forward air controller deployed from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Paxton was part of a squad of American and British troops conducting a raid on a village on Aug. 22, 2013. Once pinned down by enemy gunfire just outside the village, he continued to call in air strikes, helping the squad evacuate an injured Marine.
Paxton's actions earned him the Bronze Star Medal, which he received Monday at a ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in front of family and fellow squadron members of VMFA-251.
"This is a reminder of what it is that we do," Lt. Col. Joshua Riggs, squadron commander, said of the award. "We still have Marines engaging in combat every day. Every sortie counts."
Paxton's job was to pinpoint targets for attack helicopters overhead. Once the squad was pinned down, Paxton called in air strikes to the west to allow the squad to move into the ditch, then to the south to allow it to move the wounded Marine.
In all, the air strikes Paxton called in killed nine enemy fighters and destroyed a Taliban prison. Aside from the wounded Marine who was evacuated, no one else was injured.
"I'm just a small part of it," Paxton said Monday, praising other members of his squadron and the helicopter personnel. "I did my job, did what I was trained to do. There's nothing more reassuring when you're in a ditch in a bad way, than someone coming on the radio and saying, 'Hey, I can see what's going on.'"
Paxton deployed to Afghanistan in May 2013, his second tour since joining the Marines in 2005. In his first deployment, he served in an aircraft support role, firing on targets marked by ground controllers.
From May to October, he served as a forward air controller on 10 operations. Air strikes he called in killed 15 enemy fighters and helped provide cover for six medical evacuations.
Paxton said a squadron official told him three weeks before Monday's ceremony he would receive an award for his actions, but he didn't find out it would be a Bronze Star until last week. The medal is the nation's fourth-highest individual award for acts of heroism in combat.
Along with his wife, Ashleigh, and his two children -- 2-year-old Regan and 4-month-old Tucker -- family from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Massachusetts traveled to Beaufort to see Paxton get his Bronze Star.
He didn't tell his wife about the events of Aug. 22 until he got home from Afghanistan.
"I'm very grateful that God brought him back to me safely," Ashleigh Paxton said. "I'm proud and honored today. It's pure joy."
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.