A Silver Star Marine looks to veterans for help in braving civilian world

Then-Cpl. Frank Simmons took cover with only a small berm of dirt for protection as a barrage of enemy fire sprayed around him near a village in southern Afghanistan.

Dehydrated and tired from a foot patrol through the desert in triple-digit heat and humidity, Simmons, a Force Recon Marine sniper, said he watched in horror as a Humvee carrying Marines from his platoon exploded in a volley of five rocket-propelled grenades.

“It terrified me; I thought they were all instantly killed,” said Simmons, of Temecula, who is now a master gunnery sergeant with the Reconnaissance Training Company at Camp Pendleton. The Aug. 8, 2008 firefight would be a precursor of the toll fighting in Afghanistan would have on American forces.

Feeling he had nothing left to lose, Simmons said he looked through the scope of his MK 11 and fired on Taliban fighters he feared might try to pull the Americans from the burning vehicle and use them as propaganda.

Gunnery Sgt. Frank Simmons, a Silver Star recipient, killed more than 20 Taliban soldiers as a Recon Marine during an eight-hour firefight 15 years ago. He is now looking to retire and ease back into civilian life. He is pictured at the Marine Monument in San Clemente on Monday, November 7, 2022. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Cpl. Frank Simmons stands on right, stands with fellow Marine Cpl. Caleb Medley, left, in Southern Afghanistan during the 2008 Force Recon deployment. (Photo courtesy of Frank Simmons)

Cpl. Frank Simmons in the Farah Province of Southern Afghanistan in 2008. (Photo courtesy of Frank Simmons)

Cpl. Frank Simmons meets the Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Conway in Southern Afghanistan after the Battle of Shewan. (Photo courtesy of Frank Simmons)

Landscape scenes from Southern Afghanistan in 2008 near where the Battle of Shewan occurred on Aug. 8. (Photo courtesy of Frank Simmons)

Cpl. Frank Simmons, left, stands with two other Marines in Southern Afghanistan in 2008. (Photo courtesy of Frank Simmons)

Cpl. Frank Simmons is scoping out enemy movement for elimination on the outskirts of Farah Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Frank Simmons)



“They had such tunnel vision on the vehicle that they didn’t realize I was picking off their friends,” he said. In a matter of minutes he killed eight Taliban fighters.

But, as more dropped, those remaining recognized what was happening and returned to a heavily fortified irrigation ditch, focusing their fire on Simmons, who said he was too weak to make a dash for the ditch behind him where other Recon Marines were more sheltered.

“I’d be shot in the back,” he said.

Simmons, then 24, shot and killed 18 insurgents in 10 minutes and wounded two others, later receiving the Silver Star for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action” for the 2008 gunfight that officials said eventually cleared out about 250 Taliban insurgents from the Afghan village of Shewan. The Silver Star is the third-highest military decoration awarded for valor against an enemy.

Simmons, who had already deployed to Iraq three times before 2008, would go on to serve four more nine-month deployments and six special missions in Afghanistan.

Now set to leave the Marine Corps after 20 years of service and make a civilian life for himself, Simmons said he hopes to use the calm-under-fire he developed to make that transition a success. But also, he has been preparing by turning to other veterans who have successfully patrolled the path before him.

“Joining the civilian ranks, it’s a little scary,” Simmons, 38, said this week as he looked out toward the San Clemente pier from the Marine Monument at Park Semper Fi.

“Leaving the Marine Corps is something I’ve accepted, but it will be a process until I exit. I’ve accomplished more than I ever dreamed,” he said. “The 20 years I spent in the Marine Corps is extremely rewarding.”

To prepare for the civilian world, Simmons said he is relying on his network of veteran brothers who have been “the point man going through the brush.” Some have already found success in veteran-friendly Southern California companies that manufacture products appealing to the Department of Defense, while others work at the Department of Energy, another area Simmons has his eye on.

“I’ll just use the skills, the same determination, the drive I would use on a mission and apply that all to the civilian world,” Simmons said. “That same calm demeanor I have in a gunfight, I’ll keep that when I’m dealing with co-workers. And, it will be nice to have a job where I know I’m not going to be shot at.”

Friends, now in the civilian world, are helping him translate his military skills for resumes for civilian companies. Other groups, such as the United Service Organization, which helps to transition service members, and the Honor Foundation, which assists those who have been in the Special Operations forces, have also been part of his support network.

Among Simmons’ most important assets, in addition to his varied skill base, is his story, said Gary Rohmann, a coach with the Honor Foundation. He is helping Simmons make connections with company CEOs and managers.

“What companies need is team building, serving their customers, improving operations, and in the end, making a profit,” Rohmann said. “When he tells his story, he has to incorporate that with those four things.”

Coming from Special Operations, Rohmann said Simmons is the “best of the best.” But adjusting to the civilian world can be especially difficult for these veterans, who are accustomed to focusing on mission after mission.

“Accomplishing that mission is what fuels the fire,” Rohmann said. “When they get out, there’s no mission of that magnitude.”

Data shows that 45% of veterans (whether they’ve served four years or 30 years) leave their first job in the first year.

The key, Rohmann said, is finding a company that continues to feed that need for service and success and then incorporating military skills into civilian needs.

“Most Southern California companies are vet-friendly,” he said. “And look to hire vet in key positions.”

The Honor Foundation also takes veterans to networking opportunities in the San Francisco area, he added.

Rohmann said he doesn’t worry about Simmons’ potential.

“He brings everything,” Rohmann said. “How many in corporate America are willing to put their life on the line or are even willing to put in a full eight hours?”

That integrity and work ethic is what Simmons said he continues to try to instill in the young Marines who follow in his footsteps. For the last few years – his last deployment was in 2018 – Simmons has been teaching new Recon Marines what it takes to make it in the highly competitive and specialized field. He also recruits Recon Marines, which means he travels to bases around the West Coast, convincing infantry Marines to do even more.

“It’s a commitment to be a Marine, but to be a Recon Marine is an extra commitment,” he said. “I’m doing my best to sell it to them, so they’ll think it’s worth all the pain and suffering – which it is. To be honest, it’s one of the most important things I’ve done in the military for most of the last decade, recruiting the next generation.

“I know my time is coming to an end,” he added, “and I’d like to see the future of the Marine Corps and, specifically, the Recon community heading in the right direction with good, strong, smart Americans.”

When Simmons looks back at that firefight near Shewan, he said he often thinks about what might have happened if he wasn’t fortunate enough to have crawled toward dirt berm as gunfire rang out around him and his platoonmates were pinned down in a nearby ditch.

“Half of my platoon would have been killed, and all of those in the Humvee would have been captured,” he said. “I should have been killed a dozen times over, but by some gift of God’s grace and just our ferocious fighting, we made it through.

“Outstanding physical fitness, outstanding marksmanship, and a lot of determination, is something the Marine Corps is known for, and it definitely paid off that day,” he said. “It takes a lot of grit to knowingly walk back out into a counter-attack when you’re still getting body cramps from dehydration, and you’re knowingly going back into a hellacious gunfight. And every single one of us did it.”

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After his platoon was resupplied with water and ammunition, they returned to the fight and attacked the enemy, Simmons said. “We went back there on foot, into the irrigation ditches and fought them up close and personal.”

They found fortified bunkers where the Taliban had a command and control set up. With more Marines from the 2nd Battalion/7th Marines – a unit out of Twentynine Palms – and support from multiple Air Force fighters and a B1 bomber, the 250 enemy fighters were suppressed, Simmons said.

“By the end of eight hours, we had complete control of that area, and no one was shooting at us,” Simmons said

And, he added, “everyone I had thought died in the burning vehicle was still alive.”

“My story is one of thousands,” Simmons said. “So many were never recognized. They are the silent professionals that have gone on with their careers in the civilian world. Every veteran you meet has done so much more than you would realize.”

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