By T.C. BradfordDecember 21, 2011
FORT POLK, La. -- A Soldier with 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI) was awarded the Silver Star on Friday for his actions under fire that saved the lives of two comrades in Afghanistan.
Sgt. Timothy Gilboe, a member of A Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, also is credited with helping to eliminate a high-value target after engaging in hand-to-hand combat with an insurgent.
The Silver Star is the third-highest medal a Soldier can receive. It is bestowed for extreme valor in the face of the enemy.
The 2-4 Infantry was based in the Jaghato District, Wardak Province in Afghanistan. According to Lt. Col. Tom Rickard, 2-4 Infantry commander, 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, the unit conducted a joint operation with Polish forces in Jaghato, which led to the events of April 28.
Gilboe's platoon was conducting a patrol near the village of Awalata when 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 gunner's rucksack, setting it on fire.
The squad returned fire, forcing the insurgents back, and Gilboe turned his attention to extinguishing the fire in the rucksack, which was filled with ammunition. While he and the assistant gunner were occupied with that task, 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 Gilboe charged the remaining insurgent. Gilboe had put his weapon down to fight the rucksack fire, and he 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. He 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 and 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. He took charge of the remaining squad members, cleared the area and set up a security perimeter. Without regard to his own wounds, he rendered first aid to the wounded and cared for them until the medic could prepare them for evacuation. Gilboe helped load the wounded on the medevac helicopters, and only then did he allow 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 his life and the lives of his fellow Soldiers were on the line, Gilboe aggressively took the fight to the enemy and came out victorious. Because of his actions, two Soldiers' lives were saved and a high-value target was eliminated from the battle.
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 his squad leader saw that the team had taken out the enemy, and he hoped that brought Hermanson some closure.
Gilboe's parents, Steve and Deanna, 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 Sgt. Gilboe, just being in the same uniform and the same division is an honor for me."
When Gilboe enlisted in 2006, he was assigned as an engineer with 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade at Fort Polk. He later decided that he wanted to be an infantryman. He had to reclassify, go back through training and eventually was assigned to 10th Mountain Division back at Fort Polk.
Although Gilboe actively set in motion the path that would lead to that day, among all of 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 OK," he said. Gilboe said that Hermanson, although 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.