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For repeatedly using his own body to shield other Marines from enemy fire, for dashing across fire-swept ground to recover a Marine shot in the face by an enemy sniper, and for orchestrating a five-hour firefight by coordinating multiple U.S., Afghan and Georgian units across three languages, Gunnery Sgt. Richard A. Jibson became the most recent Marine to earn the Navy Cross.
On May 28, 2012, Jibson, a newly embedded infantry adviser with the 23rd Georgian Battalion in Helmand province, Afghanistan, was conducting a joint Afghan-led patrol though Mazr Abad Janubi when his unit came under heavy, accurate enemy fire. His allied contingent included 16 Georgians, 26 Afghan National Army soldiers, Afghan police, 11 Marines and sailors from an air naval gunfire liaison team, an explosive ordnance disposal team, an Afghan National Army embedded training team and his Georgian liaison team.
"We expected that it was a bad area. We had intel that it was," Jibson said. "But we were more likely going to see some harassing fires."
At about 6:30 a.m., Jibson identified an alley marked with rock piles that local residents said contained improvised explosive devices. As EOD techs began working to locate and disarm the bombs, the EOD assistant team leader came under small-arms fire landing less than a foot from his exposed position.
Jibson immediately identified enemy positions about 250 meters away and coordinated return fire while ensuring the EOD team could reach safety. The EOD team leader, however, came under direct fire and was unable to counter because he had laid his rifle down while investigating a bomb.
"Gunnery Sergeant Jibson continued to cover the EOD [leader] with his own body and by fire as the Marine recovered his rifle and made his way to a covered position," his summary of action reads.
"I don't really know what was going through my head," Jibson said. "I was just on autopilot. Everything that I had been taught and trained just overcame everything."
He focused on countering the attack and in a span of 30 minutes moved between friendly fighting positions under intense enemy fire, locating enemy positions and delivering accurate fire.
During a lull, the EOD techs conducted a secondary sweep, but again came under heavy fire.
"Due to his professionalism and timely actions, the squad closest to the fight was able to suppress a second vicious ambush consisting of over 500 effective rifle and [medium machine gun] rounds fired from multiple enemy positions," the summary reads.
As the willingness of the Afghan forces to lead the operation began to wane and the Georgians grew frustrated, Jibson began working to rebuild cohesion and move, even as Afghan forces refused.
Around 9:25 a.m., enemy forces attacked again as the patrol moved out of the ambush site and began clearing other areas. Over the next few hours Jibson would continue to run from fighting position to fighting position. He maneuvered friendly forces, helped to rescue three Marines and another group of Afghan soldiers in the crossfire and an ANGLICO Marine critically wounded while attempting to call for close-air support.
"With complete disregard for his own safety Gunnery Sergeant Jibson heroically ran from cover to retrieve the injured Marine," his summary of action reads.
He then worked with Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Andrew Owensby to stabilize the Marine and coordinate his evacuation. Owensby earned the Bronze Star for his actions that day.
Fighting would continue, but Jibson and the rest of his patrol would break enemy fire with the help of precision-guided munitions from an AV-8B Harrier. While leaving the area they came under a last ambush, also crushed with close-air support. Knowing the unit could not endure another fight without resupply, Jibson began maneuvers back to their patrol base a few kilometers away, only to be fired upon by Afghan allied forces manning the gates. Jibson was able to relay a cease fire over the ANGLICO's radio.
"That was a bit frustrating. Growing up I heard stories of guys in Vietnam having the same experience, coming back and getting fired on by their own patrol base," he said. "Thank God that the message got to the commanders inside the combat operations center to tell everybody to cease fire and nobody got hurt."
His summary of action paints a glowing picture of his heroism.
"His actions allowed the EOD team to render safe an IED and destroy an enemy cache in the midst of multiple enemy engagements. His resolve and decisiveness under fire undoubtedly saved the lives of numerous American, Georgian and Afghan soldiers, Marines, sailors and police officers who made up the combined force," it states.
Jibson received his valor award during an April 22 ceremony aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., from Maj. Gen. David Berger.