Monday morning on Broadway Chelsea was a long way from April 2, 2011 for veteran Stephen Leon.
While he walked down the main street of his hometown – the grand marshal of the Memorial Day Parade – his thoughts were still keenly aware of that day in Afghanistan when he put his life on the line to protect hundreds of sleeping military men from a surprise terrorist attack on his Camp Phoenix outpost.
For his heroics, he has been awarded the Bronze Star.
As he and other members of the night watch stood guard over the camp, they were suddenly barraged with small arms fire, hand grenades and two suicide bomber insurgents who meant to penetrate the barracks and kill thousands.
“There were 8,700 soldiers behind us and they were all sleeping in the middle of the night, so we figured it was going to be our time to die because we weren’t going to let them get to those 8,700 sleeping soldiers,” Leon said in a Record story published in 2013. “My partner got hit and I said to him, ‘Just keep shooting because if they get by us, it’s all done.’ I got blown up, but we stopped them.”
According to his commendation letter from the Army, despite being rocked by multiple explosions, Leon was able to gather himself and deliver lethal shots to the attackers and to the suicide bombers who had not yet detonated their vests.
“While disoriented from a series of explosions, Specialist Leon refused to surrender ground and delivered accurate and lethal fire which prevented insurgents from gaining entry to the base,” read the citation. “His exceptional courage, dedication to duty, care for fellow soldiers and personal sacrifice directly contributed to the successful defense of the main entry control point. His actions saved lives.”
Operating with all humility on Monday morning in front of a hometown crowd, Leon joked about receiving his commendations from General David Petraeus.
“I love being a Chelsea resident because we represent,” he said. “I got all of my commendations from General Petraeus himself. He handed them over to me. When he gave them to me, he asked me what we needed to do to stop the war in Afghanistan. I said to send over more Chelsea residents and we’ll take care of this thing quickly.”
Leon is the brother of Chelsea Police Officer Robert Leon. All three of his brothers have also served in the military, and he said he wanted to have a military career since he was a little boy playing with his GI Joe toys.