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U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Ismael Bamba is awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal during a ceremony on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, April 11, 2024. Bamba received the award for his heroic actions that saved the life of a Japanese national in Okinawa, Japan. The Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal is awarded to Marines and Sailors for meritorious service or acts of heroism. Bamba, a native of Ivory Coast, West Africa, is the sergeant major of 12th Marine Littoral Regiment, 3d Marine Division. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Alyssa Chuluda)

Photo by Sgt. Alyssa Chuluda

Leading By Example: 12th MLR Sergeant Major Provides Life-Saving Aide to Japanese National

28 Apr 2024 | Lance Cpl. Cara Castaneda 3rd Marine Division

April 11, 2024, U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Ismael Bamba, the sergeant major of 12th Marine Littoral Regiment, received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for heroically saving the life of a civilian in Okinawa, Japan.

On the afternoon of Jan. 26, 2024, Bamba, a native of Ivory Coast, West Africa, was driving home on the expressway after a change of command ceremony when he witnessed a motor vehicle accident. The vehicle in front of him had flipped over and slid into the side of a guardrail, coming to a stop on the left side of the road. Without hesitation, Bamba instinctively used his vehicle to block the accident. He then ran over immediately to assess the driver’s condition.

“The first thing that went through my head was not, ‘Are they a Marine?’ or, ‘Are they a Japanese local?’ It was, ‘They’re a human being,’” said Bamba. “I’m going to fight for what’s right, protect what’s right, and do what’s right.”

The vehicle was positioned with the driver's side parallel to the road. Bamba discovered that the driver, a Japanese national, was locked inside the vehicle. “The driver was inside the vehicle, lying down,” explained Bamba. “I needed to get them out of there.”

After quickly assessing his surroundings, Bamba used a piece of metal and his fist to punch through the window, breaking the glass and safely removing the woman from the vehicle. Bamba stabilized the driver and relocated her away from the expressway until emergency services arrived.

“She was panicking, she didn’t know where she was, she seemed delusional,” said Bamba. “I think the woman may have suffered a concussion, but overall, she seemed to be okay.”

Due to Bamba’s selflessness and quick decision-making, he was awarded his sixth Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal by Col. Peter Eltringham, the 12th MLR Commanding Officer, who served as the presenting officer.

“Being able to pin a Navy and a Marine Corps Commendation Medal on Sgt. Maj. Bamba, and recognizing these types of moments, is important,” said Eltringham. “I think anybody that has ever served with Sgt. Maj. Bamba knows that he is your shield.”

Bamba’s experience and extensive training prepared him to properly respond to the situation. He was able to properly stabilize the driver, being mindful of any potential spinal injuries.

“I stopped to help because of the training the Marine Corps has given us,” said Bamba. “It was instant. We’re Marines and we save lives.”

Bamba stated that he wasn’t aware he would be receiving an award. He was grateful, but to him, his actions were simply the right thing. He believes if any other Marine were in his position, they would respond exactly how he did.

Bamba is known throughout the Marine Corps for his enthusiastic leadership style, positive attitude, and welcoming presence. Later this year, Bamba will be departing 12th MLR to serve as the senior enlisted advisor at U.S. Marine Corps Forces Korea.

“The Marine Corps did everything right in accepting Sgt. Maj. Bamba to work at U.S. Marine Corps Forces Korea,” said Capt. Caitland Considine, the 12th MLR adjutant. “The officers and the enlisted Marines around him will be under some of the best care possible in the entire Marine Corps.”

Bamba hopes that Marines learn from this experience and act ethically.

“What it means to be a Marine is to give selfless devotion to duty,” said Bamba. “We will give our lives to save others, and we will give our lives to protect this country.”