The Department of Defense said in a statement on March 9 that two U.S. service members were killed in action in Iraq on Sunday, March 8.
The full statement, from Operation Inherent Resolve, reads: “Two U.S. service members were killed by enemy forces while advising and accompanying Iraqi Security Forces during a mission to eliminate an ISIS terrorist stronghold in a mountainous area of north central Iraq, March 8.” It continues, saying that “The names of the service members are withheld pending next of kin notification, in accordance with U.S. Department of Defense policy.”
On March 10, Lt. Gen. Pat White, the Commanding General of Combined Joint Task Force for Operation Inherent Resolve, released the names of the two deceased. He said “On behalf of the military Coalition, I send my deepest condolences to the family, friends, and loved ones of U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Moises A. Navas and Gunnery Sgt. Diego D. Pongo.”
He continued, “Their courage to confront the evil of ISIS, while advising Iraqi Security Forces, in close combat is a testament to the Coalition’s steadfast commitment to achieve our goal to defeat ISIS permanently. Moises and Diego made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our freedoms and protect our way of life; they will not be forgotten.”
Diego Pongo Enlisted in the Marines in 2004 & Had Previously Deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq
Gunnery Sgt. Diego D. Pongo was a 34-year-old Marine Raider from Simi Valley, California. He was part of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion in Marine Forces Special Operations Command. They were based out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
According to Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), Pongo had enlisted in the Marines in 2004 and deployed as a rifleman with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He then deployed to Afghanistan as a sniper team leader with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. In 2011, Pongo joined MARSOC and deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2013, he earned a “Bronze Star Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device for heroic actions against the enemy” in the course of Operation Enduring Freedom. In addition to the Bronze Star medal, Gunnery Sgt. Pongo received numerous awards and personal decorations.
The statement says that he leaves behind his daughter and his parents.
Diego Pongo Was a ‘Quiet Professional’ With a ‘Larger-Than-Life Personality’
Col. John Lynch, the Marine Raider Regiment Commanding Officer, also issued a statement about the deaths of both U.S. marines. He said Gunnery Sgt. Pongo was a family man who adored his young daughter. He recounted a story “when he brought his mom to this past year’s Marine Corps Birthday Ball ceremony and together they out-danced the rest of us on the dance floor.”
Col. Lynch also said he would spend lots of time outdoors with his daughter, going hiking, camping and woodworking together. He said Gunnery Sgt. Pongo was “incredibly humble” and a true professional, but he was able to balance that with his “larger-than-life personality.”
The Status of American Troops in Iraq Is Still Unclear, With Both Countries Holding Different Positions
The Iraqi parliament voted in early January to “work towards ending the presence of all foreign troops on Iraqi soil,” CNN reported. This vote was largely seen as a response to the American targeted airstrike on Iranian commander Soleimani at the Baghdad International Airport, in Iraq.
There are about 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and the Trump administration has said they have no plans to withdraw from the country.