By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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Sgt. Clifford Matthew Wooldridge, 24, a Port Angeles High School graduate, was named 2012 USO Marine of the Year.
He will be formally presented with the honor Friday at the USO Gala at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C. He also appears in the 2012 U.S. Marine Corps birthday video.
In May, Wooldridge, a member of the Roughrider Class of 2006, was awarded the Navy Cross, the military's second-highest award for heroism, for his actions during a patrol in Afghanistan.
The USO is a nonprofit organization that has provided morale, welfare and recreation services to members of the military and their families since 1941.
“Whatever Cliff puts his mind to, he excels in,” said Cliff's mother, Tammy Wooldridge of Port Angeles, on Tuesday.
She said that her son has found his place in life and seems happy in the Corps.
“He has a great family of Marines he has surrounded himself with,” she said.
In addition to the USO Gala on Friday, Wooldridge has been invited to visit the White House and will be given a tour of the Pentagon.
Wooldridge currently serves as a strategic weapons instructor stationed with the Marine Corps Security Force Regiment at the Naval Support Activity Northwest Annex in Chesapeake, Va.
The USO selected Wooldridge to represent the U.S. Marine Corps after he was nominated by Sgt. Maj. Charlie D. Stanford of his regiment.
Other USO award recipients are Army Staff Sgt. Jacob J. Perkins of Fort Drum, N.Y.; Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Gregory F. Gaylor of Naval Base San Diego, Calif.; Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Beversdorf of Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii; Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Nicholas A. Beane of Virginia Beach, Va.; and National Guard Airman Evan J. Stevens of Springfield, Ill.
Wooldridge and the story of his actions that resulted in the Navy Cross are prominently featured in a 12-minute 2012 Marine Corps birthday video on the Marine Corps website, www.marines.mil.
When Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work pinned the Navy Cross on the young Marine in May, Work commented that Wooldridge's story sounded like a movie script, Tammy Wooldridge said.
According to the narrative provided by the Marine Corps when Wooldridge was awarded the Navy Cross, this is what happened:
Wooldridge was serving as a vehicle commander on a mounted patrol June 18, 2010, in the Musa Qala district of Afghanistan's Helmand Province.
The patrol came under heavy enemy fire, and Wooldridge, who was then a corporal, ordered his Marines out of their vehicles, and they began to maneuver toward the enemy fighting positions.
He led a four-man fire team to outflank 15 Taliban fighters as they prepared to attack the rest of the patrol.
Wooldridge and his Marines killed or wounded eight of the fighters, scattering the rest.
As his team withdrew, Wooldridge heard voices from behind the wall of a nearby compound.
When he investigated, Wooldridge found himself face to face with two Taliban fighters, both of whom he shot.
Out of ammunition, Wooldridge crouched to reload his weapon when he saw the barrel of a Taliban machine gun appear from around the corner of the wall.
Wooldridge grabbed the barrel and pulled the surprised fighter around the corner with it, and they began fighting hand to hand.
Realizing his predicament against the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Marine, the Taliban fighter attempted to pull the pin on a grenade in order to kill them both.
Wooldridge used the fighter's own machine gun to kill him with several blows to the head.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.