Sgt. Jason Triola was sitting in the turret of his amphibious assault vehicle in a Fallujah, Iraq, courtyard just before sunrise on Nov. 11, 2004. He and the seven Marines under his command were in the battle for the city and he’d just told his men to catch some sleep for the first time in a few days.

Without warning an explosion rocked the vehicle. They’d been hit with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Instinctively, the Meadville native rushed to ensure his Marines, including one with a shrapnel wound to his hand, were safely out of the vehicle, and he and his driver sped toward the source of the attack.

In the words of the commendation medal Triola received for his bravery that day, he then “neutralized the enemy with his turret.”

“I had my vehicle positioned toward the main road we thought the enemy would be coming from,” said Triola, who talked with the Tribune this week while home on a two-week leave. “We knew the next morning we’d be getting in a fight.”

The amphibious assault vehicle is often confused for a tank, he said. It runs on tracks and is heavily armored, but it can be unloaded from a ship near shore and has jets to run it onto the ground. It can carry 18 soldiers and is used in Iraq because it’s safer for transport than a Humvee or truck.

Triola, 24, said once his vehicle was attacked, training took over. “I just did it. It was just instinct. I wasn’t really scared. I don’t really think I had time to be scared. All I could think about was making sure everyone was all right. Once I knew everyone was OK, we just commenced to neutralizing the threat.”

The injured Marine was apparently saved by Triola’s order to take a nap. “If he’d been sitting up, he would have taken it through the head,” Triola said.

Grade-school dream

Serving in such situations fulfills a dream Triola has had since elementary school. “I knew I was joining the Marines since fourth grade,” he said. “My uncle was a Marine. I always looked up to him. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.”

He graduated from Meadville Area Senior High School in 2000 and enlisted shortly thereafter. In addition to the past year’s deployment, he was also involved in the invasion of Iraq.

The most rewarding part of being a Marine is “the honor, the feeling you get when you’re in a uniform,” he said. He was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal on June 17. He said he’ll probably make the Marines his career, and has the immediate goal of being a Marine sniper.

Maternal concern

But his mother, Ellen, doesn’t handle his deployments as well. “I was scared to death both times” he was deployed to Iraq, she said. “It’s something I think about every day until he gets home.”

She’s asked him to stay home from the deployments. “But he said ‘it’s not my decision.’ He said his brothers (fellow Marines) are over there getting killed. ‘I need to go over there to do my duty.’ ”

His brother, Justin, 23, serves in the U.S. Air Force, flying supplies into and out of Baghdad a couple times a month, Ellen said, and his sister, Megan Triola, 21, is also with the Air Force, stationed in South Korea.

“I worry about the Marine the most,” Ellen said of Jason. “He’s in the middle of everything and has no fear.”

There was one time Jason was scared. “IEDs (improvised explosive devices) were blowing up around us and we could see tracers going up all around us and RPGs,” he said. “We went straight into an ambush and got caught in a crossfire.”

But Jason said compared to what the media portray, there’s much positive progress in Iraq. “The news tries to make it look a lot worse than it really is. The women and the children will come out and wave, wave American flags, blow us kisses. You know you’re doing something right over there.” He did offer one caveat: “The men over there, they really don’t like us that much.”

He’s not too concerned about his brother or sister. “I know he’s not really going to be in harm’s way,” he said of his brother. As for his sister, “She’s pretty safe too. I’d rather she be over there.”

Ellen said it’s been three years since all of them have been home at the same time. “It is bad. It’s very bad.”

Gary Johnson can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at

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