A Sacramento, Calif.,-based Marine Corps infantry officer and recruiter who began his military career as an enlisted man will receive a coveted award for leadership Thursday night.
Maj. Daniel Grainger, currently the commanding officer of Marine Recruiting Station Sacramento, earned the Lt. Col. William Leftwich Jr. Trophy for Outstanding Leadership for his actions last year in an increasingly chaotic Iraq.
“It’s quite an honor,” Grainger said in an interview Thursday. “The Marine Corps doesn’t give out a lot of individual awards, and rightfully so.”
Since last December, from his Sacramento post, Grainger has overseen recruiting in a 108,000-square mile region that spans the Central Valley from Redding to Visalia, as well as the Sierra Nevada mountains. Altogether, his recruiters ship out about 670 recruits a year.
Grainger’s prior job, as part of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, was more kinetic.
Commanding Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment from 2012 through 2014, Grainger was originally poised to help out a U.S. embassy in the Middle East. When the militant group known as the Islamic State began swarming cities such as Mosul and Tikrit in Iraq last summer, 150 men from Grainger’s rifle company ended up bolstering security at the fortress-like U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
Their average age 23, laboring in temperatures that reached 110 degrees during the day, Grainger’s men worked around the clock. Grainger’s days started with a morning briefing, followed by a tour of the compound to ensure his men were up to speed before settling into the operations center.
Enemy activity, he said, usually happened a little after sunset.
“It was the Marines who were on post who did the really hard work,” Grainger said.
Grainger’s company protected the 104-acre U.S. embassy until October.
“Maj. Grainger’s Bravo Company was among the best, if not the best, rifle company I have ever seen in nearly 20 years of service,” Lt. Col. Paul Merida, the 6th Marine Regiment’s executive officer, told the Marine Corps Times last month.
Named for a highly decorated Marine Corps officer killed in the Vietnam War, the Leftwich Trophy has been presented to selected Marine Corps captains since 1979. Leftwich was a U.S. Naval Academy classmate of future Texas businessman H. Ross Perot, whose H. Ross Perot Foundation provided the initial endowment for the trophy.
Perot also commissioned sculptor Felix de Weldon, whose works include the iconic U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, to cast the trophy. Tellingly, several past winners have ascended into the highest ranks of the Marine Corps.
Underscoring the high-level visibility, the Leftwich Trophy was to be presented to Grainger by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., recently named by President Barack Obama to serve as the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“The award is really (for) the men I served with,” Grainger said.
A Boston native, Grainger enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1994 at the age of 18. He eventually earned his officer’s commission following his 2004 graduation from the University of Maryland. He has served as an instructor at The Basic School, where all Marine Corps officers train, and graduated from the nine-month Expeditionary Warfare School.
Grainger’s wife, the former Cassie Ashbrook of Shaver Lake, Calif., accompanied him to the award banquet held in a Northern Virginia hotel, near the Pentagon. Their two children remained in California, because they have school to attend.