December 7, 2011

A hero among us

Editor’s Note: Welcome to the McKenzie County Farmer’s new series, Faces of the Patch. This segment will focus on highlighting some of the new people that have joined the community as a result of recent oil field activity. With the thousands of new residents in McKenzie County, many journeys are coming together from all over the nation.
As a community, it is important to recognize and embrace them. The individuals and families you will read about here in the coming weeks and months are exemplary additions to McKenzie County’s community. They come from all walks of life and support the community in a variety of ways. And so we welcome the Faces of the Patch.

By Lauren Billing
Farmer Staff Writer

Nat and Wendi Small are a young couple who moved to McKenzie County this past August from Walla Walla, Wash. Wendi is a server at Outlaws’ Bar & Grill where she works 70 hours a week. And Nat owns and operates Precision Pressure Washing. He handles day-to-day operations and manages four employees. Precision facilitates cleanups for a number of oil sites in the area, including Precision Drilling, Denbury Resources, and Schillinger Construction.
The Smalls currently live in Arnegard and have been married for almost two years. When asked about their thoughts on the area so far, Nat says, “I enjoy the constant bustle of McKenzie County and the never-ending supply of work. But I dislike the random bumper-to-bumper traffic.” Wendi says, “I love it here so far! People here are great and I love meeting people from all over!”
Before moving to McKenzie County, the Smalls lived near family in Walla Walla where they were both born and raised. Wendi was the manager of Big Cheese Pizza. Nat, however, made the decision to join the military after finishing high school, following in the footsteps of both of his grandfathers.
“I graduated early and joined the United States Marine Corps at 17 years old,” says Nat. “And I was stationed in 29 Palms, Calif., just outside Palm Springs, Calif.”
During his four years in the Marines, Cpl. Nat Small served as a scout sniper and completed tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But Small did more than just serve in the armed forces, he has been recognized for heroic service.
His tour in Afghanistan earned him a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, along with the enduring gratitude of his fellow Marines and his country.
Cpl. Small’s first tour took him to Haditha, Iraq from September 2008 to March 2009. His next tour in Afghanistan began in early March 2010 and finished in July 2010.
While in Afghanistan, Cpl. Small served as Assistant Team Leader, Shadow 2, Scout Sniper Platoon, Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division (forward), I Marine Expeditionary Force (forward) from April 18 to June 22, 2010 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
On several different occasions Cpl. Small put himself in danger to ensure the safety of fellow Marines. His last operation in Afghanistan stands as a testament to the kind of Marine Small is.
The operation supported Weapons Company during company-level operations in southern Musa Que’lah. Small worked the operation from June 16 until his medical evacuation on June 22.
During that time, Cpl. Small used his exemplary field skills to keep his team supplied without having to order the support of a resupply team. Small describes himself as, “an outdoorsy guy,” and was able to find fruits, vegetables and game, along with purifying water, to keep his team fed.
On June 17, 2010 his team was on patrol when they began receiving enemy machine gun fire. Small immediately exposed himself, despite the heavy fire, in order to locate the enemy’s position. He was able to locate the enemy and direct his team’s efforts, ultimately ending the enemy’s machine gun fire.
Four days later, on June 21, the Shadow 2 team moved beyond friendly lines to survey enemy activity. Small was able to observe and prevent enemy fighters from setting up an ambush 400 meters from his location.
The next day, June 22, his team found themselves caught in heavy enemy fire with no way to directly engage their enemy. Through the fire, the team’s leader became mortally wounded, but Small was able to assist in moving the casualty  to safety. Lance Cpl. Small continued to aid in medical care and provided direct fire support.
It was only after his team was safe behind friendly lines that he let his team leader know of his own injuries. During the engagement, Small suffered from grenade shrapnel to his legs and a Traumatic  Brain Injury. At the point of divulging  the injuries, Small was no longer able to stand or see.
“I didn’t know how bad I was hurt,” says Small. “The blast knocked me out and I woke up on the ground. I just knew I had to get up quick. I wasn’t affected by it yet. I didn’t even know there was shrapnel in my legs.”
The valor and bravery that Cpl. Small displayed over and over during his service earned him the Bronze Star with Combat Distinguishing Device V. This medal is a commendation recognizing bravery, heroism in combat or meritorious achievement and is the fourth highest combat award in the U.S. armed forces.
His Bronze Star citation commended him by saying, “Throughout these operations, Lance Cpl. Small repeatedly displayed bravery, aggression, heroism, and true professionalism as a scout sniper and a Marine. By his extraordinary guidance, zealous initiative, and total dedication to duty Lance Cpl. Small reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service” (Small was promoted to Corporal after the citation for his Bronze Star).
Cpl. Small completed his service in June of this year and received his medal in Yakama, Wash. on Nov. 4. Despite Small’s injuries and the shrapnel that remains in his legs, he has made quite the recovery, though the blast that caused his massive concussion has left him deaf in his left ear.
“It’s a good thing I have two,” Small jokes.
Wendi describes her husband as, “the most amazing husband in the world. He is my hero. I am so blessed to have such an incredible man in my life. He fought for our country, earning both a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. I couldn’t be more proud.”
It is truly incredible to have such an upstanding and dedicated couple join the McKenzie County family. Warmest welcome to Wendi and Nat!