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Wednesday, April 23, 2014 - 7:25pm
The Army has returned to Sgt. Timothy Gilboe the body armor that saved his life from a point-blank gunshot during close combat in Afghanistan.
Gilboe received the chest plate in a ceremony Friday, at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Portland, Maine. The bullet hole is at the very bottom edge of the plate.
Gilboe said he is alive today not only because of the plate, but also because of his fellow battle buddies, including one who made the ultimate sacrifice that day, April 28, 2011.
Squad leader Staff Sgt. Matthew Hermanson, who died in the battle, is a hero, Gilboe said.
"I have to live my life to my full potential because he gave his for mine. I have to make it mean something. That's kind of my driving force," Gilboe said.
"Sgt. Hermanson died keeping us safe," he said.
The body armor "will always be his" Gilboe said, remarking that he is happy to receive the plate and tell Hermanson's story.
When the game is on the line, that's when you're going to need Marine Corps infantry and Army infantry, he said.
"That's when you're going to need equipment and good training; that's when you're going to need leaders like Sgt. Matthew Hermanson," he said.
A ROLE MODEL
Program Executive Office Soldier Command Sgt. Maj. Douglas Maddi returned the body armor in the ceremony.
PEO Soldier assesses body armor after gunshots, blasts or other impacts, Maddi said. The information is passed on to industry to improve equipment to better protect Soldiers, he said.
Gilboe, a Maine native, is a role model for his community and the nation, Maddi said.
He received the Silver Star for his actions that day, is going to college, and will likely be a person of prominence in his community in the years to come, Maddi said.
Maddi served in a sister battalion in Afghanistan the same time as Gilboe. He attended Gilboe's Silver Star ceremony at Fort Polk, La., in 2011.
"He is the shining example of our country's next 'Greatest Generation,'" Maddi said.
PATROL IN AFGHANISTAN
Previously deployed to Iraq as an engineer, Gilboe said he reclassified to become an infantryman. He then deployed to Afghanistan.
Gilboe was with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, out of Fort Polk, La., which was based in the Jaghato district, Wardak Province.
His platoon was conducting a patrol near the village of Awalata when it came under fire, and a battle ensued in which insurgents were injured.
As Gilboe and his squad moved through the village to do battle damage assessment, they came under further attack. Hermanson made sure he was in the lead position, said Gilboe.
"Before I swung around the building where the two insurgents were, he stopped me and he said 'Get behind me, follow me,' and by doing that, he died keeping me safe," said Gilboe.
The insurgents opened fire and Hermanson was mortally wounded; the assistant machine gunner's ammunition-filled rucksack was hit and was on fire. Gilboe said he assessed the fire to be the biggest threat at the time.
"I dropped the machine gun and proceeded to put the flames out," he said.
But the insurgents charged again. A teammate, Air Force Staff Sgt. Andrew Corean, a joint terminal attack controller, shot one of the insurgents, said Gilboe.
Gilboe, without time to get his machine gun, charged the other insurgent, grabbed the enemy's AK-47 barrel and forced the muzzle to his chest plate. The insurgent fired a shot into the plate, knocking the wind out of Gilboe and spraying his legs with shrapnel, he said.
Gilboe and the insurgent grappled. Gilboe removed the enemy's weapon and they engaged in hand-to-hand combat. He struck the insurgent in the face, giving enough space for the assistant machine gunner to shoot and kill the enemy.
A lieutenant was also injured in the battle, he said.
Gilboe, despite his own injuries, cleared the area and established security with his team and rendered first aid to the casualties until the medic arrived.
His actions are credited with saving the lives of at least two Soldiers and resulting in the death of two insurgents, including a high-value target.
THE STRENGTH OF THE NATION
Gilboe served six years on active duty, including his deployment in Afghanistan, and is now in the National Guard in Maine.
He said he plans to continue his career with the National Guard, and finish his college degree in construction, with the aim of being a builder.
With a good sense of humor, Gilboe joked that "I'm really happy they didn't give me a medium," chest plate, as he talks about where the bullet struck at the very bottom edge of his size large plate.
Gilboe said he is glad his "15 minutes of fame" are over, and he can focus on his future. But he is grateful, he said, for the chance to talk about the courageous acts of his entire team and share what the Soldiers went through in Afghanistan.
"I wish every Soldier had an opportunity to tell their story like this," said Gilboe.