There is no fear in Sgt. Sam Ferg-Meshnick’s eyes.
His demeanor emanates a strength borne of unfathomable experiences while serving our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. His story is one of outstanding bravery and courage in the face of death.
Ferg-Meshnick is a 2008 graduate of Clintonville High School. Like many students, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life after graduating. He took a job at Hillshire/Sara Lee in New London and continued to weight his options for the future.
“My mom (Angela Thompson) always preached the military, so eventually that’s the road I took,” he recalled. “I went to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, Calif., and spent 13 weeks there. I then came home for a month to visit family and friends, and then went to Camp Pendleton in California for 2.5 months of infantry training. Then, I received orders to travel to Camp Lejeune, N.C.”
Ferg-Meshnick’s next stop would be Iraq.
“I was in Iraq for three months. I then came back to the U.S. for 1.5 years. Then, I shipped out to Afghanistan for the first time,” he said. “After my first tour in Afghanistan, I came back for a year. Once that time was up, I returned to Afghanistan for my second seven-month deployment.”
Between his first and second trip to Afghanistan, Ferg-Meshnick took Infantry Squad Leader training for two months, and was then promoted to the rank of Corporal. He continued training exercises for the next seven months, and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant in October 2012, just before shipping out to Afghanistan for the second time.
“When I first got to Afghanistan for my second tour, things were very quiet. The environment was not kinetic; things were very slow,” he said. “We had three squads that rotated on security assignments for the base I was on. There were also mobile patrols in armored vehicles and heli-borne operations.”
Ferg-Meshnick’s experiences would dramatically change on Dec. 2, 2012.
“We got started early in the morning on Dec. 2,” recalled Ferg-Meshnick, who served as the security element leader of a partnered heli-borne aerial interdiction on a suspected opium-producing compound. “We didn’t expect much. We were checking some compounds for drugs. Helicopters dropped us off, and we set security before checking the buildings. We spent about 45 minutes there, and we were getting ready to head out. Then, we heard gunshots to the north, followed by more gunshots from other directions. At that point, everyone was just wondering what was going on.”
Ferg-Meshnick moved to a rooftop with five other men, including his Lieutenant, and began to provide suppressing fire so that the team could move to a better position.
“I saw a group of Marines out there, and they were pinned down,” said Ferg-Meshnick. “I told my Lieutenant, ‘Someone needs to get out there. I’m going out there and I’m going to bring them back’.”
Ferg-Meshnick then leapt off the eight-foot roof and ran 50 meters across open terrain, under enemy fire, to reach the team.
“I brought those four men out with me,” he stated. “They had backpacks with ammo and other supplies. I picked two of them up and carried them out, and the other two followed.
“As soon as the five of us made it back, I saw two more Marines pinned down on another side. They had machine guns in their packs,” he said. “So, I grabbed a guy and we went out to rescue them.”
This time, Ferg-Meshnick ran 100 meters through open terrain to reach the team, again organizing a hasty retreat and helping the team move 100 meters back to the safe compound.
Within an hour, the enemy had massed between 80-100 Taliban fighters. Completely encircled, the raid force began receiving accurate enemy machine gun fire and rocket propelled grenades from four separate compounds.
Learning that another team had become surrounded to the north, Ferg-Meshnick moved his squad to the northwest where he could better observe the pinned-down Marines. He then coordinated with another squad leader to provide effective fire against the enemy positions.
“We decided to use smoke to mask our movement,” he said. “We both threw smoke grenades, and then my junior Marine laid down suppressive fire. Then, I took another Marine and crossed 100 meters of open terrain, under enemy fire, organizing the third rescue.”
Ferg-Meshnick personally carried a fatally wounded Marine 40 meters back to a secure compound.
After quickly accounting for all personnel and equipment, Ferg-Meshnick then provided security while the Marines withdrew from the compound and boarded helicopters to leave the area.
“We were in a firefight for about three hours that day,” said Ferg-Meshnick. “Instincts just take over, and you do what’s necessary. You do whatever you need to do. My thoughts were focused on getting those guys out. We couldn’t leave them stuck out there.”
Ferg-Meshnick said that after his group got back to the base, they stayed there for about a week. They had grieving exercises and a ceremony to honor the Marine who had died.
About a week later, operations continued. Heli-borne operations resumed about one month later. Ferg-Meshnick continued to assist with these operations for the next five months until the base was torn down and moved.
Ferg-Meshnick’s heroic actions earned him the Bronze Star with Valor – the fourth-highest honor a member of the armed forces can receive. He also earned the John Archer Lejeune award for bravery. On Oct. 19, 2013, he was named the USO of North Carolina’s Marine of the Year.
He has now reached the end of his active service duties. “I signed an eight-year contract,” he said. “Only part of it requires active duty. I will only be called back to active duty if there is a desperate need.”
These days, Ferg-Meshnick is working at Walker Forge in Clintonville. He plans to further his education and will begin studying fire protection and emergency management at Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) next fall. He will study at FVTC for two years and then transfer to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh for two more years. He is engaged to Kayla Schoenike, whom he has been dating for five years. Mayor Judy Magee and the City Council recently presented Ferg-Meshnick with a Citizenship Award, and presented him with a “key to the city” keychain and city pin.
Though he is back to the quiet life Clintonville offers, Ferg-Meshnick said his experiences in combat have changed his life forever.
“Nobody understands what it’s like to be over there, or to have a family member over there,” he said. “It’s very difficult. The experiences are unfathomable. Military members need all the support they can get from their communities. We really appreciate it when that support is received.”
For those considering joining the military, Ferg-Meshnick offered simple advice.
“Follow your heart and your head,” he said. “But remember – it’s not for everyone.”