By Bob ReinertSeptember 30, 2008
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - It was so dark in that area of Iraq the night of April 26, 2008, Spc. Joe Gibson wasn't certain what he had just stepped on as he walked through the chest-high grass between a series of two-foot-deep irrigation ditches.
Gibson, a mortarman with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, took two more steps forward and then turned around to investigate.
"It's my job to make sure, so I turned around to make sure," Gibson recalled. "I started moving the grass out of the way to see what I had stepped on."
It was an insurgent, who raised his AK-47 rifle toward Gibson.
"He had an advantage on me," Gibson said. "I knew he would have shot me first, so I just dived on him."
As they struggled, the insurgent uttered the word "bomb" in English. He was wearing an explosive suicide vest.
"I thought at that moment that I probably was going to die, but I didn't care," Gibson said. "There was nothing I could do about it, so I kept on doing what I was doing."
He ultimately shot and killed the insurgent, saving the lives of all the Rangers around him. For that and his other actions that night, Gibson, 23, was awarded the Silver Star at a ceremony Sept. 26 at the Evergreen Theater on Fort Lewis.
Gibson was one of 45 Soldiers from the 2nd Bn., 75th Ranger Regt. who received combat awards following their recent deployment at the ceremony, presided over by Adm. Eric T. Olson, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Fla. Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commanding general, I Corps and Fort Lewis, was in attendance.
"You are a special breed," Olson told the assembled Rangers. "We do ask a lot of you. It's all a part of your job. It's a calling. And for that, the nation and I thank you, and we are fiercely proud of you."
Olson called Gibson's actions "awesome, and we were all inspired by them."
Prior to Gibson's encounter with the insurgent, the Rangers had been inserted by helicopter.
"It was in the middle of the night," said Master Sgt. Bryan Barker, Gibson's platoon sergeant. "It was a very dark night, about zero illumination. We were just out kind of in the middle of nowhere."
After landing, the Rangers were met by intense small-arms and machine-gun fire. They immediately took two casualties, including a member of Gibson's squad.
"The first thing that I wanted to do was just get to him," Gibson said. "Me and another guy moved to him immediately."
Under fire, they treated the Soldier and saw to it that he and the other casualty were evacuated.
"It was physically demanding," Gibson admitted. "It's your buddy there, and you don't want to quit. He's all right. He lived through that."
A native of Yale, Okla., who joined the Army in May 2005, Gibson is married to Sgt. Samantha Gibson of the 61st Chemical Company. They met three years ago at Fort Lewis. Shortly after the raid, Spc. Gibson reenlisted for six years to become an infantry team leader in 3rd Platoon, A Co.
"That's what I joined the Army to do," said Gibson of that night last April. "I feel honored to get that chance to do what I did.
"I was just doing what I had to do. I don't really think I deserve anything special for that."
Bob Reinert is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.