By Hope Hodge Seck
Marine Corps Times

The second highest valor award, which has only been given to 14 Marines in history, will be given to two California Marines who gave their lives to protect their battalion while deployed to Afghanistan last year.

Staff Sgt. Sky Mote, 27,of El Dorado,andCapt. Matthew Manoukian, 29, of Los Altos Hills, will be awarded the Navy Cross in a ceremony at Marine Special Operations Battalion Headquarters in Camp Pendleton, Calif. on Saturday afternoon. The Navy Cross, second to the Medal of Honor, will be handed to the Marines' family members during theceremony.

According to the MARSOC news release, both Marines were deployed to Afghanistan with the1st Marine Special Operations Battalion on Aug. 10, 2012, when they began to receive heavy fire from an Afghan police officer in their tactical operations center.

Badly wounded, Mote, an explosive ordnance disposal technician, exposed himself to more gunfire in an attempt to draw attention away from his fellow Marines and distract the shooter.

"In his final act of bravery, he boldly remained in the open and engaged the shooter, now less than five meters in front of him," MARSOC officials said in a release. "He courageously pressed the assault on the enemy until he received further wounds and fell mortally wounded."

Meanwhile, Manoukian, who was the commander of the special operations team that came under attack, saw gunfire from an AK-47 tearing through walls of the operations room and quickly acted to direct his Marines to safety, exposing himself to gunfire as he did so, officials said. He put himself between the shooter and other Marines, drawing enemy fire and allowing them to get to safety.

"Outgunned, Manoukian continued to engage the enemy until he fell mortally wounded to the shooter's overwhelming fire," the release reads.

According to MARSOC officials, Mote and Manoukian will be the third and fourth members of MARSOC to receive the Navy Cross. The Secretary of the Navy must approve who will be honored before the Navy Cross is rewarded.

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