If you enlist in the Army and stay around for a while, you'll notice that the Army gives a lot of ribbons out. There is the Army Service Ribbon given to all those who complete basic training. If you stay out of trouble and perform your duties well, you might receive the Army Good Conduct Medal. If you perform your duties better than most, you might be wearing an Army Achievement Medal, Meritorious Service Medal or even, in exceptional cases, the Legion of Merit.
Then there are the medals that set people apart for a variety of reasons. Get wounded in combat? You earn the Purple Heart. Show extreme bravery in the face of the enemy you could earn the Bronze Star with a "V" device signifying valor. One medal that people will take notice of is the Silver Star. It's the third highest medal a Soldier can be awarded and it is given when that Soldier shows extreme valor in the face of the enemy. It is not awarded often, but when it is, it has been well earned. The Silver Star was awarded to a Soldier with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division December 16, 2011. Here's what he did to earn it:
The 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 4th BCT, 10th Mtn Div was based in the Jaghato District, Wardak Province in Afghanistan. According to Lt. Col. Tom Rickard, commander of the 2nd Bn, 4th Inf Reg, the unit had been conducting combat operations in the Tangi Valley in early April to prevent the enemy from running supplies through Jaghato to Chak. In mid-April, a joint operation with Polish forces was conducted in Jaghato which led to the events of April 28, 2011.
Sgt. Timothy Gilboe was assigned to 1st Platoon, Alpha Company of the 2nd Bn, 4th Inf. Div. His platoon was conducting a patrol near Jaghato by the village of Awalata. They came under fire and, in battle, wounded a couple of insurgents. As they were maneuvering to assess the situation, they came under further attack.
They were walking by some buildings when two more insurgents charged them from about 30 feet away. The insurgents fired more than 60 rounds of ammunition at them, mortally wounding the squad leader, Staff Sgt. Matt Hermanson. At the same time, shots hit the assistant machine gunners rucksack setting it on fire.
The squad returned fire, forcing the insurgents back and Gilboe turned his attention to putting out the rucksack as it was filled with ammo. While he and the assistant gunner were occupied with that task, the insurgents tried to rush them again. A teammate, an Air Force joint terminal attack controller assigned to 1st platoon, shot one of the insurgents but the other was within 10 meters of Gilboe and coming fast. Instinct apparently took over and he charged the remaining insurgent. Gilboe had put his weapon down to fight the fire in the rucksack and realized he would have no chance to retrieve it before the enemy closed so he engaged the enemy with the only weapons he had … his hands and mind.
Gilboe reached out and grabbed the barrel of the enemy's AK-47 and pulled it toward his chest which was covered by an armor plate. Gilboe said the last thing that ran through his mind before the enemy pulled the trigger was "This is gonna hurt a lot." The insurgent fired a burst directly into Gilboe's chest plate, knocking the wind out of him and sending shrapnel into his legs. Out of breath and fighting hand-to-hand, Gilboe disarmed the insurgent then hit him in the face several times, stunning him and allowing the assistant gunner time and opportunity to kill him.
Gilboe was wounded, but so were his squad and platoon leaders. Gilboe took charge of the remaining squad members, cleared the area and set up a security perimeter. Without regard to his own wounds, Gilboe rendered first aid to the wounded and cared for them until the medic could prepare them for evacuation. When that was accomplished, he helped load the wounded on the MEDEVAC choppers and, only then, allowed himself to be treated and removed from the area.
His Silver Star citation reads that he "demonstrated exemplary bravery and leadership under extreme pressure." When the rubber met the road and his life and the lives of his fellow Soldiers were on the line, Gilboe aggressively took the fight to the enemy and came out victorius. Because of his actions, two Soldiers' lives were saved and a high value target was taken out of the battle for good.
Unfortunately, one Soldier did lose his life. Hermanson, Gilboe's squad leader. Standing before his fellow Soldiers as he received the Silver Star, Gilboe shared his thoughts on the loss of his friend and comrade. "It's a bittersweet thing," he said. "I mean, we all know who the real hero was. It was Matt. I'd give everything … my medal, my worldly possessions … to have him here today." Gilboe said Hermanson saw what the team did and that they had taken out the enemy and he hoped that brought Hermanson some closure.
Any man or woman who joined the military since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center knew that they would serve time in Afghanistan or Iraq. Gilboe's mother and father, Deanna and Steve, drove down from Maine to watch their son receive his award. The only experience either had with the military came from Gilboe's grandfather's service in the Navy. His mother talked about her feelings the day he announced his intentions. "I thought he was crazy at first when he came home and said he wanted to join the Army. I didn't really want it to happen," she said. "But I'm happy now that he decided to do this. He's a hero."
Rickard said Gilboe is a fair representation of the quality of Soldier that volunteers to join the Army today. "We have outstanding Soldiers joining the force. They come in, eyes wide open, they know they are going to get into a fight of some sort," he said. "It's amazing the virtue that our folks have wanting to come in and serve their country and they don't have illusions. They know what they are going to get into."
Rickard talked about his feelings as a commander of troops like Gilboe. "I couldn't be prouder. Being a part of the 10th Mountain Division is the greatest honor of my life," he said. "Leading these men in combat has been an extraordinary honor for me. I'm humbled to serve with them and when you meet or hear about guys like Sergeant Gilboe, just being in the same uniform and the same division is an honor for me.
Was it fate that led Gilboe to be in the right place at the right time to accomplish those actions? That is for philosophers to argue. What is known is that Gilboe took the actions willingly that led to his being there. When he first enlisted he was assigned as an engineer. He was stationed at Fort Polk with the 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. Gilboe decided sometime along the way, that he wanted to be an infantryman. He had to reclassify, go back through training and eventually was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division right back at Fort Polk.
Even though GIlboe actively set in motion the path that would lead to that day, among all the recognition and accolades from friends, family and fellow Soldiers, his greatest source of pride and kindest words were for his friend and squad leader Hermanson. "After the chaos was over and we got to him, we rolled him over and his first thought was for the rest of us. He asked if everyone else was okay," he said. Gilboe said that Hermanson, even though mortally wounded, had the foresight to prep a hand grenade as a last resort in case the battle didn't turn out well. He had also made radio calls to inform others of the situation. "He went out fighting," Gilboe said.
His experience that day will color the way he leads others going forward. "I know (as a leader) you need to approach every situation with a solid plan and superior communication," he said.
His story is a concrete example that the training a Soldier receives along with a willingness to do what needs to be done, no matter the personal cost, can affect the outcome of battle and turn the tide in your favor.
Article by T.C. Bradford, Fort Polk Public Affairs Office