May 14, 2009
Hundreds cheered a Fort Carson Green Beret on Thursday as he was awarded America's second-highest medal for valor - one of only 19 Distinguished Service Crosses given since the end of the Vietnam War.
Sgt. 1st Class Jarion Halbisengibbs wasn't talking Thursday. But everyone else, from a Navy admiral who presided over the ceremony on down, was talking about the steely courage the sergeant and two comrades showed on a Sept. 10, 2007 mission in Iraq with Fort Carson's 10th Special Forces Group.
The short version: Despite being shot in the hand, suffering grenade shrapnel wounds to his torso and a bullet that entered his belly and exited from his hip, Halbisengibbs protected two wounded soldiers while killing six insurgents.
"You have to ask yourself when you hear the description of the fight: Where do we get such men?" said Lt. Gen. John Mullholland, commander of the Army special forces.
Halbisengibbs, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Lindsay and Capt. Matthew Chaney were ordered to lead a group of Iraqi police on a predawn raid on an insurgent leader's compound outside Samarra, north of Baghdad.
That's a fairly typical mission for Green Berets in Iraq, who spend their days gathering intelligence and training Iraqis while working nights to kill or capture insurgents with precision attacks.
But Army reports show the moonless early morning hours of Sept. 10 proved far from ordinary.
"The feats of these men will go down in history," said Col. Darsie Rogers Jr., 10th Group's commander.
The mission was meticulously planned. The Green Berets were going after Abu Obediah, a leader of the Islamic State of Iraq known for using kidnapping and murder as intimidation tactics and extortion to pay for the insurgents' needs.
They set out in helicopters for Obediah's compound, planning to hit their target at 2 a.m. Things went wrong almost immediately, Army records show.
The planned landing zone was covered in water. The pilots landed almost on top of the compound as rotors kicked up a sand storm, cutting visibility to a few feet.
The enemy was alert and holed up in three buildings, shooting with heavy machine guns capable of spitting more than 600 bullets per minute.
Amid the confusion, the Iraqi police hesitated, but Halbisengibbs rallied them to charge into the closest building, Army records show.
Then Halbisengibbs, Chaney and Lindsay set out for the farthest building, where the heaviest fire was.
All three men fired, killing three insurgents as they raced to the mud-brick structure.
Halbisengibbs tossed a grenade through the door that killed another two.
The three Green Berets raced inside, killing three more enemies before those remaining raked them with AK-47 fire.
Chaney was shot in the pelvis. Lindsay took bullets to his throat and abdomen. They kept firing.
Then a grenade was thrown in their midst and detonated, blowing Chaney and Lindsay back out the door. Halbisengibbs was wounded in the hand and arm and thrown into a corner of the room.
Halbisengibbs told Chaney and Lindsay he was wounded but would stay in the fight. A bullet ripped through his abdomen and traveled through his hip.
"Ignoring this second debilitating gunshot wound, he engaged and killed the enemy within 12 feet of his postion," an Army account said.
Halbisengibbs was still able to take cover, rally the Iraqis and help mop up the last of the insurgents before he sought treatment for his wounds.
"It's amazing," said retired Green Beret Clyde Sincere, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1966 for valor in Vietnam.
Obediah and a dozen others were killed. A stash of weapons, including three heavy machine guns, was seized. Commanders say a vicious insurgent cell was destroyed.
On Thursday, Halbisengibbs had his medal pinned on by Navy Adm. Eric Olson, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.
"It is his nation that pays tribute to the hero he has become," Olson said.
Chaney and Lindsay had the Silver Star pinned on them by Mulholland.
"It just shows you the great, young Americans we have," said the Fort Carson commander, Maj. Gen. Mark Graham.