Unsung Heroes: The Army Ranger Who Beat Down A Suicide Bomber With His Fists

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U.S. Army photo.

On the night of April 26, 2008, UH-60 Black Hawks delivered U.S. Army Rangers to a grassy field in rural Iraq. As the soldiers took up their positions beneath the ascending helicopters, a heavy barrage of small-arms fire began whipping in through the tall grass. The men of Company A, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment had arrived on a mission to find and eliminate an al Qaeda cell. Now they were being ambushed by a group of insurgents less than 50 meters away.


Two of the Rangers went down almost immediately, one with a life-threatening gunshot wound.

“The guy that got hit was a real good friend of mine, and he called out to me,” Spc. Joe Gibson later told the U.S. Army Special Operations Command in a report published by the military blog Blackfive. “Me and another guy moved to him. I had the medical equipment, so I started getting that prepped while other people started taking care of him. We got him ready for [evacuation], patched him up, and started moving him out.”

With the casualty evacuated, Gibson returned to his squad and the Rangers continued their mission. The gunfire had died down.

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As he moved through the chest-high grass, Gibson stepped on something that he thought was garbage. After taking a few more steps, he turned to make sure. It wasn’t garbage — at least not in the literal sense. It was an al Qaeda fighter armed with an AK-47. “He didn’t say anything other than giving his war cry,” Gibson recalled. “He had an advantage on me. I didn’t have a chance to get my weapon ready and I knew he was gonna shoot me, so I dived on him.”

The insurgent’s rifle was raised, but Gibson managed to knock the muzzle to the side just as it went off. Unable to raise his own weapon, Gibson tackled the man to the ground and began pounding him with his fists. “[He] ripped off my helmet and all my optics, so I couldn’t see all that well,” Gibson said.

As the two men fought in almost total darkness, Gibson felt the insurgent reaching down for something on his belt. Gibson figured it was a knife, but when the man yelled, “Bomb!” he realized it was the detonator for a suicide vest. While Gibson lunged for the detonator, the insurgent maneuvered around and began choking him. Fearing he was about to pass out, Gibson reared back and delivered one more blow that connected at the temple and knocked the insurgent out.

Gibson leapt back and raised his M4. “I got my weapon into his stomach and fired,” he told the US Army Special Operations Command public affairs office. “He came back to consciousness after that, [but] I knew I got him. I stood up and neutralized him.”

There’s no telling how many Rangers would have lost their lives had he not neutralized the insurgent.

Gibson was awarded the Silver Star for his actions that night. “Rangers are proven over and over again in battle,” said Adm. Eric Olson, then-commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, during the award ceremony. “Rangers are glorified in Hollywood movies, but you aren’t actors. You are real men who make real sacrifices.”

My brother earned the Medal of Honor for saving countless lives — but only after he was left for dead

"As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night."

Opinion

Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

Air Force Master Sgt. John "Chappy" Chapman is my brother. As one of an elite group, Air Force Combat Control — the deadliest and most badass band of brothers to walk a battlefield — John gave his life on March 4, 2002 for brothers he never knew.

They were the brave men who comprised a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that had been called in to rescue the SEAL Team 6 team (Mako-30) with whom he had been embedded, which left him behind on Takur Ghar, a desolate mountain in Afghanistan that topped out at over 10,000 feet.

As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night. After many delays, the mission should and could have been pushed one day, but Szymanski ordered the team to proceed as planned, and Britt "Slab" Slabinski, John's team leader, fell into step after another SEAL team refused the mission.

But the "plan" went even more south when they made the rookie move to insert directly atop the mountain — right into the hands of the bad guys they knew were there.

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Conflict photographer Lynsey Addario's seen a hell of a lot of combat over the past twenty years. She patrolled Afghanistan's Helmand Province with the Marines, accompanied the Army on night raids in Baghdad, took artillery fire with rebel fighters in Libya and has taken photos in countless other wars and humanitarian disasters around the world.

Along the way, Addario captured images of plenty of women serving with pride in uniform, not only in the U.S. armed forces, but also on the battlefields of Syria, Colombia, South Sudan and Israel. Her photographs are the subject of a new article in the November 2019 special issue of National Geographic, "Women: A Century of Change," the magazine's first-ever edition written and photographed exclusively by women.

The photos showcase the wide range of goals and ideals for which these women took up arms. Addario's work includes captivating vignettes of a seasoned guerrilla fighter in the jungles of Colombia; a team of Israeli military police patrolling the streets of Jerusalem; and a unit of Kurdish women guarding ISIS refugees in Syria. Some fight to prove themselves, others seek to ignite social change in their home country, and others do it to liberate other women from the grip of ISIS.

Addario visited several active war zones for the piece, but she found herself shaken by something much closer to home: the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina.

Addario discussed her visit to boot camp and her other travels in an interview with Task & Purpose, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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An Army staff sergeant who "represents the very best of the 101st Airborne Division" has finally received a Silver Star for his heroic actions during the Battle of the Bulge after a 75-year delay.

On Sunday, Staff Sgt. Edmund "Eddie" Sternot was posthumously awarded with a Silver Star for his heroics while leading a machine gun team in the Ardennes Forest. The award, along with Sternot's Bronze Star and Purple Heart, was presented to his only living relative, Sternot's first cousin, 80-year-old Delores Sternot.

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U.S. special operations forces are currently field testing a lightweight combat armor designed to cover more of an operator's body than previous protective gear, an official told Task & Purpose.

The armor, called the Lightweight Polyethylene (PE) Armor for Extremity Protection, is one of a handful of subsystems to come out of U.S. Special Operations Command's Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) effort that media outlets dubbed the "Iron Man suit," Navy Lieutenant Cmdr. Tim Hawkins, a SOCOM spokesman, told Task & Purpose on Wednesday.

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