What began as a mission to find and eliminate terrorists earlier this year in Iraq ended up being a life-defining moment for one member of 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.

Spc. Joe Gibson was on a secret night mission Apr. 26, 2008 when he placed his comrades’ lives ahead of his while evacuating wounded American Soldiers and engaging in hand-to-hand combat with a suicide bomber. His actions that day saved the lives of fellow Rangers.

The attention brought from the awarding of the nation’s third highest medal for valor makes Gibson feel slightly “uncomfortable,” and is quick to point out the achievements of his brothers in arms.

“I am honored to be here with those other guys that got honored,” said Gibson following an awards ceremony for members of the unit.

The medal was presented to Gibson by Adm. Eric Olson, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command. With the stoic look many Rangers have from multiple combat tours, Gibson stood tall when presented the medal.

Before presenting Gibson and other Rangers medals for their actions in combat, Olson lauded the men of the 75th Ranger Regiment.

“You are a special breed, we ask a lot of you and for that the nation and I thank you,” said Olson. “Rangers are proven over and over again in battle. Rangers are glorified in Hollywood movies, but you aren’t actors, you are real men who make real sacrifices”

Olson added that Gibson’s actions during the mission for which he was awarded “exemplify and uphold the warrior culture of the Rangers.”

THE CRUCIBLE BEGINS

As the helicopter full of Rangers touched down that April night, Gibson and fellow Soldiers found themselves dodging enemy small arms fire less than 50 meters away.

Gibson’s platoon sergeant said the enemy small arms and machine gun fire began “less than a minute” after the group disembarked the helicopter.

“The contact was heavy where Spc. Gibson was,” said the platoon sergeant. “We took 2 casualties there.”

He described the setting as “a very dark night, out in the middle of nowhere with no ambient light, chest high grass, deep irrigation ditches.”

Among the two casualties the Rangers sustained was a life threatening gun shot wound victim.

“The guy that got hit is a real good friend of mine, and he called out to me,” said Gibson. “Me and another guy moved to him. I had the medical equipment, so I started getting that prepped while other people started taking care of him. We got him ready for (evacuation), patched him up and started moving him out.”

Transporting the casualty over an uneven field with irrigation ditches and through enemy fire was a challenge for the Rangers.

“Moving him out was horrible. It was the most ‘smoked’ I’ve ever been. It was physically demanding,” said Gibson.

The Rangers’ dedication to each other motivated Gibson to get his friend to safety.

“It was my buddy, I didn’t want to quit,” said Gibson. “For a while, it was just me on one end of the litter.”

Gibson’s actions are credited with saving the Soldier’s life.

The Soldier returned home safely to see his wife and newborn.

MAKING SURE

After assisting in the medical evacuation, Gibson and the Rangers continued on with their mission.

They began to clear a field with tall grass and canals near the helicopter landing zone. The Rangers knew enemy was still in the area even though most had fled when the Soldiers touched down.

While clearing the field, Gibson stepped on a terrorist hiding in a ditch under some grass.

“I really didn’t think it was a person that I stepped on because I thought it was just another part of the ground, maybe some trash or something,” said Gibson.

Initially, Gibson continued for a few more steps past the terrorist. Following his gut instinct, Gibson turned around investigate what he stepped on.

The terrorist moved to kill Gibson and the Rangers.

“He didn’t say anything other than giving his war cry,” explained Gibson. “He had an advantage on me. I didn’t have a chance to get my weapon ready and I knew he was gonna shoot me, so I dived on him.”

Gibson grabbed the muzzle of the terrorist’s rifle as the terrorist began to fire. Gibson wrestled the terrorist to the ground and gained positional control. He struggled and later stripped the terrorist of his weapon.

After stripping the terrorist of the weapon, the terrorist gripped Gibson’s rifle. Without the ability to use a firearm, Gibson engaged the enemy with his hands.

“Then he ripped off my helmet and all my (night vision) optics, so I couldn’t see all that well,” recalled Gibson.

The terrorist then began to reach for something hiding in his clothing.

“I stopped him ’cause I thought maybe he was grabbing a knife to attack me with,” said Gibson.

The terrorist was reaching for the detonator to his suicide vest. The terrorist screamed “bomb!” in English.

“I thought at that moment that I was probably going to die,” explained Gibson.

As Gibson worked to stop the terrorist from detonating his vest, the terrorist had maneuvered into a position that was cutting off Gibson’s circulation.

Gibson, in an effort to save himself, began to hit the terrorist as hard as he could. His blows rendered the terrorist unconscious.

“I got my weapon into his stomach and fired,” said Gibson. “And he came back to conscious after that, I knew I got him. I stood up and neutralized him.”

DOING HIS JOB

The native of Yale, Okla. explains that he was just doing what he was paid to do.

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