The Lt. Col. William G. Leftwich Jr. Trophy for Outstanding Leadership is an honor awarded annually to an outstanding Marine officer serving with a ground combat unit.
The award is given in honor of Leftwich, a Navy Cross recipient, who died in 1970 when his helicopter crashed in Vietnam. He was the commander of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion.
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Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos selected Capt. Benjamin M. Middendorf, the former commander of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, to receive the 2012 trophy.
Middendorf was nominated for the award last year by his fellow company commanders at the conclusion of their seven-month deployment to Helmand province, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“It’s very humbling just to know that it was my peers who recommended me to our battalion commander for the award,” said Middendorf, a native of Rochester, Minn. “I was privileged enough to be in charge of a great crew of guys; the phenomenal officers, staff noncommissioned officers, NCOs and junior Marines down there doing all the hard work in a pretty tough and dynamic combat deployment.”
As the company commander of infantry Marines, Middendorf was responsible for about 300 Marines and sailors as well as their weapons, gear and vehicles. From training and communication, to supply and logistics, Middendorf ensured that his Marines were continuously equipped and ready to fight.
Throughout Golf Co., Middendorf was known for his tenacity, knowledge of the enemy, and passion for his Marines’ well being, said Capt. Neal Jones, one of Middendorf’s platoon commanders during their 2012 deployment.
Jones recalled Middendorf’s tenacity during a firefight in Musa Qala District, Helmand province, Afghanistan. Two of Golf Co.’s rifle platoons and a section of gun trucks ran into a platoon-size element of enemy fighters. He immediately made his way to the forward line of troops and began to give direction to the Marines from an exposed area he knew gave him the best view of the battlefield.
“He knew how to be tough,” Jones said. “Not once would he complain of harsh conditions or the everyday grind that we all experienced in combat. In the face of adversity, he never backed down from the challenge. He was the ultimate example of a focused rifle company commander.
“Based solely off of his tenacity, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end in a firefight with a unit that he is in command of,” Jones added.
Middendorf’s ability to understand his enemy and his Marines’ capabilities allowed him to effectively and safely employ his Marines during a constantly evolving deployment, said Capt. David Marshall, the executive officer for Golf Co. during the deployment.
Middendorf and his company were tasked with a three-day helicopter-borne disruption operation in the Kajaki District at the end of July 2012, recalled Marshall.
Following a successful insert, cordon and search of their primary objective, enemy forces began to surround and engage the Golf Co. Marines with machinegun fire, rocket propelled grenades and various types of indirect fires.
Middendorf’s Marines received continuous fire throughout the day, which only ceased at nightfall. Through a signal support team attached to the company, they learned of enemy forces establishing a cordon around them. The enemy planned to box the Marines in, to isolate and attack at first light.
“Understanding the capabilities of his Marines and having a deep knowledge of the enemy that we were facing, Middendorf chose to continue with our planned nighttime movement,” Marshall said. “We conducted the movement in pitch dark through the enemy lines and improvised explosive device (threats) without them ever knowing we were there.”
Middendorf says he believes that the most important aspects of leadership can be summed up in one word: trust.
“I worked hard to establish the trust between myself and my Marines,” Middendorf said. “I wanted them to trust me not to put them in bad situations, and that I would do everything I could to provide for them whenever we’re outside the wire. Marines have instant will and obedience to all orders, we have to do what we’re told to do. But if they trust the guy in charge of them, they’re going to want to do it.”
Middendorf continues to passionately lead Marines as the company of Headquarters and Service Co., 5th Marine Regiment. He is slated to receive the Leftwich Trophy later this year.
“It’s humbling. I don’t feel like I did anything different than any of the other company commanders that were out there,” Middendorf said. “The award is bigger than any one man. It represents what Marine officers are about. I just happen to be the guy they picked this year.”
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