HR 979 - Honoring Marine Staff Sergeant Sky Mote
H.R. 979, a bill to honor Marine SSgt Sky Mote, who was killed in Afghanistan on August 10, 2012, was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives today. The legislation, introduced by Congressman McClintock, designates a mountain peak in the John Muir Wilderness, under which the Mote family gathered to camp every year, as “Sky Point.” Every member of the California congressional delegation is a co-sponsor of the bill.
“This bill would ensure that the memory and heroic deeds of Sky Mote will never be forgotten,” Rep. McClintock said. “Sky loved the outdoors and the beautiful mountains around his hometown. His selfless sacrifice would live on in the hearts and minds of his countrymen every time they gaze upon Sky Point.”
Mote, who grew up in El Dorado, California was awarded the Navy Cross, the Purple Heart, the Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal, a Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medal, two Combat Action Ribbons and three Good Conduct Medals.
Sky Mote enlisted in the Marine Corps upon graduation from Union Mine High School in El Dorado. His nine-year service included a deployment to Iraq and two deployments to Afghanistan.
“By his decisive actions, heroic initiative, and resolute dedication to duty, Staff Sergeant Mote gave his life to protect fellow Marines on August 10, 2012 by gallantly rushing into action during an attack by a rogue Afghan policeman inside the base perimeter in Helmand province,” the legislation states.
The legislation now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Congressman McClintock delivered the following remarks today on the House floor in support of the bill:
Honoring Marine Staff Sergeant Sky Mote
Marine Staff Sergeant Sky Mote cared about a lot of things: his fellow Marines, his country, his family, his community.
But his father, Russell, recalled that “He never cared about medals. He never showed them to us. Once, I found one in his laundry.”
The irony is that Staff Sergeant Sky Mote received the second-highest medal our country can bestow to a Marine – the Navy Cross – for his heroism in defending his fellow Marines on the last day of his life, August 10, 2012. The Navy Cross is in addition to the Purple Heart, the Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medal, two Combat Action Ribbons and three Good Conduct Medals that he earned during his nine years of exemplary service to our nation. In the U.S. Marine Corps, that prides itself on maintaining the highest standards of the American military tradition, Staff Sergeant Sky Mote stands conspicuously above and beyond.
On that last day of his life, Sergeant Mote was at his post in the tactical operations center of the First Marine Special Operations Battalion in Helmand Province. On that day, a so-called Afghan Police officer opened fire on the Marines who had come there to help that country. When the attack broke out, Sergeant Mote was in an adjoining room. He could have easily escaped to safety. According to the Navy’s citation, “He instead grabbed his M4 rifle and entered the operations room, courageously exposing himself to a hail of gunfire in order to protect his fellow Marines. In his final act of bravery, he boldly engaged the gunman, now less than five meters in front of him, until falling mortally wounded.”
According to the citation, it was Mote’s actions that stopped the attack and forced the attacker to flee. This was the heroism for which he received the Navy Cross. We know that he didn’t care much about medals. But he cared so deeply about his Marine Corps brothers that he gave his life for them.
And many who would have perished that day will go on to lead long and productive and prosperous lives because Sky Mote sacrificed his own for them -- as did Captain Matthew Manoukian of Los Altos Hills, California, who also gave his life to defend his fellow Marines that day.
Staff Sergeant Mote and his unit had been in the thick of the fighting in Afghanistan, often functioning as a commando force. During their tour in Puzeh, he and his unit were often engaged in day-long fire fights, and Mote in particular had often exposed himself to grave danger.
His family didn’t know a lot of this at the time. His step-mother, Marcia, said "He'd always say, 'I'm going to go on a camping trip,' or 'I'm going to go on a hike. He didn't want to give us any reason to worry."
His father said that although his son was indifferent to medals, he was intensely proud of his EOD badge – designating his service as an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Technician. Russell Mote explained, “He was just a humble person doing his job, and his job was to protect his team. He was not like a gung-ho military person. You wouldn’t know he was in the Special Forces.”
To the EOD technicians, bombs are not something to be avoided, but to be sought out and disarmed. On one such day, Mote defused two IED’s, crawled through a heavily seeded mine field to save the life of his team leader who had been severely wounded by a third, and then directed the evacuation of his unit. On that day, Sergeant Mote had earned a Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a V for Valor.
On another very different day nearly three years ago, Sgt. Mote returned home. Thousands of his countrymen stretched out more than a mile on El Dorado Hills Blvd. to silently express their gratitude and respect for this hometown hero. Hundreds more lined overpasses to pay their respects along the motorcade route. Still more stood silent vigil in front of Silva Elementary School and Rolling Hills Middle School where he had attended, as his procession passed by. A thousand more waited for him at the church.
Many knew him by his deeds. A fortunate few knew him has a person, and recounted stories of his growing up in the community.
His father recalled how “Sky loved life, family and friends, and he loved being a Marine. He loved to surf. He loved to hunt and hike in the Sierra.”
Marcia perhaps said it best, “He was just everybody’s friend, and he would do anything for anybody.”
Sky Mote was 27 on that fateful day in Afghanistan. He was born June 6, 1985 in Bishop, California. When he was still young, his parents divorced and his father brought his children to El Dorado. He married Marcia, and there they raised Sky and their four other sons.
There, Sky joined the 4-H. He raised pigs and rode horses. He joined the Civil Air Patrol. At Union Mine High School, he lettered in track and cross-country. He camped and biked and hiked with his family throughout the Sierra. And from the time he was a child, he spoke of someday joining the military and defending his country.
Right after graduation in 2003, he did just that. And nine years later, he returned home to be laid to rest by a country that honors him; a hometown that remembers him; and a family that misses him.
Mr. Speaker, I wanted to share a little of what I’ve learned about Marine Staff Sergeant Sky Mote, because it helps to answer the question that James Michener first asked: “Where do we get such men?”
We get them from the heart and soul of America. We get them from good and decent families like the Motes. We get them from little towns like El Dorado, California.
We come here today, to the Hall of the House of Representatives, to try to honor a hero who didn’t care much about medals. Lincoln, at Gettysburg, noted our difficulty in doing so when he looked out over the quiet battlefield and noted that “in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far beyond our poor power to add or detract.”
But nevertheless, we try.
Lincoln was right – we cannot add to the honor of his deeds. We come instead to draw inspiration from them. We reflect on a young life, with all the hopes and joys and aspirations of a long and productive lifetime ahead – all sacrificed for a country that to this day represents what Lincoln called the “last best hope of mankind.”
We come in gratitude to know that in every generation there are such heroes among us who will step forth from the safety of hearth and home and into mortal peril to protect their fellow citizens. Patton put it best when he said, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”
We come out of recognition that although the suffering of these fallen heroes has ended, the suffering of their families goes on day in and day out. There are Gold Star families among us who spend their Memorial Days not at barbecues and beach parties – but in solemn ceremonies and quiet vigils around honored graves. We honor their loved ones in hopes that in some small way, we can help fortify them against the loss that they bear every day of their lives.
But most of all, we come in recognition of Shakespeare’s plea that “this story shall the good man teach his son.”
A few years ago, I had the honor to visit members of the Third United States Infantry Old Guard who tend the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery.
They are meticulously dressed and painstakingly drilled as they honor the memory of our fallen warriors.
It is quite a sight. And on warm spring days like this, thousands of tourists show up to watch and to join the Old Guard for a moment to honor the sacrifices memorialized at the tomb.
But, tourists don’t often show up during hurricanes. Or in driving snow storms. Or at two o’clock in the morning in sleet and hail. But the Old Guard does. They commit two years of their lives to this service, under the strictest of conditions.
I asked a young sergeant, “Why? Why do you do this?”
“Because Sir, we want to demonstrate to our fellow Americans that we will never forget.”
For that reason, I bring this bill to the House today, with the unanimous support of the entire California Congressional Delegation. We do so to assure that our fellow Americans never forget Marine Staff Sergeant Sky Mote.
In consultation with his family, we have identified a mountain in the John Muir Wilderness of the Sierra National Forest overlooking where Sky Mote and his family often camped and hiked. This bill proposes that it forever more be known as Sky Point, as a token of our nation’s respect of his heroism, its appreciation of his sacrifice, its sympathy for his family, and of its solemn pledge that succeeding generations of his countrymen will never forget him.
# # #