Apr 13 , 2022
On April 26, 2008, while on a night mission to eliminate a group of al Qaeda fighters in rural Iraq, Spc. Joe Gibson and his fellow Army Rangers came under fire moments after disembarking UH-60 Black Hawks. Two of the Rangers were hit immediately, one with a life-threatening gunshot wound.
After the casualties were evacuated, Gibson began moving through the chest-high grass when he stepped on something. After taking a few more steps, he turned back to double check and saw that it was an enemy fighter armed with an AK-47. Knowing his enemy had the drop on him, Gibson dove on top of him, knocking his rifle muzzle to the side just as it went off. The two fought in almost total darkness. Gibson’s helmet and optics were ripped off, but he felt the man reaching for something on his belt — a detonator to a suicide vest. As Gibson desperately reached for the device, the fighter began choking him. Knowing he would pass out if he didn’t do something, Gibson reared back and delivered one more blow, straight to the enemy fighter’s temple, knocking him unconscious.
“I got my weapon into his stomach and fired,” Gibson said in an October 2009 Army press release. “He came back to consciousness after that, (but) I knew I got him. I stood up and neutralized him.”
Gibson was awarded the Silver Star for his actions that day, actions which likely saved the lives of many of the Rangers on that mission.
AS the helicopter full of Rangers touched down that April night in 2008, in Iraq, Gibson and his fellow Soldiers found themselves dodging enemy small-arms fire less than 50 meters away. Gibson's platoon sergeant would later say the enemy small-arms and machine-gun fire began less than a minute after the group disembarked the helicopter. Among the two Ranger casualties was a Soldier with a life-threatening gunshot wound.
Transporting the wounded Soldier over an uneven field with irrigation ditches and through enemy fire was a challenge, but the Rangers' dedication to each other motivated Gibson to get his friend to safety.
"(He) was my buddy; I didn't want to quit," Gibson said later. "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 child.
After assisting in the medical evacuation, Gibson and the Rangers continued their mission. They began to clear a field with tall grass and canals near the helicopter-landing zone. The Rangers knew enemy fighters were still in the area, even though most had fled when the Soldiers touched down.
While clearing the field, Gibson stepped on an enemy combatant hiding in a ditch under some grass. At first, Gibson continued for a few steps. Following his instincts, Gibson turned around to investigate. The insurgent moved to kill Gibson and the other Rangers. Gibson grabbed the enemy's rifle muzzle as he began to fire.
Gibson wrestled him to the ground and gained positional control. He struggled, and later stripped the adversary of his weapon. The insurgent then gripped Gibson's rifle. Without the ability to use a firearm, Gibson engaged the enemy with his hands. The assailant ripped off Gibson's helmet and all his night vision optics; reached for something hidden beneath in his clothing (the detonator to his suicide vest); and screamed "Bomb!" in English.
As Gibson worked to prevent him from detonating his vest, the man maneuvered into a position that enabled him to cut off Gibson's circulation. In an effort to save himself, Gibson repeatedly hit him as hard as he could and rendered him unconscious.
"I got my weapon into his stomach and fired," Gibson said. "He came back to consciousness after that, (but) I knew I got him. I stood up and neutralized him."
"Rangers are proven over and over again in battle," said Navy Adm. Eric Olson, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, while presenting Gibson with his Silver Star Medal. "Rangers are glorified in Hollywood movies, but you aren't actors. You are real men who make real sacrifices."
Gibson said he is honored to serve as a Ranger, and to have saved his fellow Soldier's life. Following the incident, Gibson reenlisted to fight with the Ranger platoon he accompanied that night.