It was planned as a clearing operation. Afghan police and soldiers were in the lead, with Georgian soldiers providing security and a handful of Marines supporting and advising. But not long after the troops left the base in Helmand province on May 28, 2012, things began to fall apart, said Gunnery Sgt. Richard Jibson.
The group began taking fire from Taliban fighters, and in the five-hour firefight that followed, Jibson repeatedly exposed himself to a barrage of bullets to protect his fellow Marines. For his “extraordinary heroism… courageous leadership, composure under fire” and dedication to duty, Jibson was awarded the Navy Cross.
Maj. Gen. David Berger, commander of Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command at Twentynine Palms, Calif., Jibson’s current unit, said he isn’t sure what “ordinary heroism” is, but he knows that Jibson’s actions were extraordinary.
“I don’t know that anything in combat is really simple,” Berger said. “I think when you have a Marine unit that’s fighting against the Taliban, that’s hard. When you have a Marine unit that’s working with a Georgian unit and they’re fighting against the Taliban, that’s a lot harder.
“When you have a Marine unit that’s working with a Georgian unit and is working with Afghan soldiers and police and they’re all fighting against the Taliban? That’s varsity-level stuff. It’s really, really hard.”
Yet in the midst of the mess, when the Afghans and Georgians were refusing to move because they didn’t have permission from their own chains of command, Jibson stepped up, Berger said.
“On that morning, this gunnery sergeant set the example,” said Berger, who has been nominated to command I Marine Expeditionary Force.
Jibson had been attached to the 23rd Georgian Liaison Team for only about two weeks and had not trained with the Marines or Georgians in the group. Still, as the battle unfolded, Jibson said, he ran back and forth, making sure the groups were communicating through their interpreters and ensuring that everyone was “on the same sheet of music.”
“I thought it was up to me to make sure that communication” was good, he said.
Several times during the firefight, Jibson positioned himself between other Marines and the Taliban fighters, to return fire and shield other Marines from danger. When a fellow Marine was shot in the face, Jibson “fearlessly charged into a hail of enemy machine-gun fire, pulled the exposed wounded Marine to cover, and then assisted a corpsman in rendering emergency measures to stabilize him,” according to his award citation.
Jibson also called for reinforcements, casualty evacuation and close air support, according to his citation.
As the bullets flew, Jibson said he was acting on instinct, trying to get everyone out of the area alive.
Later, when he heard he had been recommended for the Navy Cross, he said, he was “absolutely shocked, and at the same time humbled and honored.”
It was “overwhelming to think that what I did – I just thought I was doing my job that day – rated such a high level of award,” he said.
Though he had not worked with the other Marines in the unit for long before the battle, Jibson said, they didn’t need to huddle or explain anything to each other when things fell apart. They worked together seamlessly, with a mentality that they would all get through it alive.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of men,” he said. “I would love to serve with them again, given the chance.”