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Sergeant gets plate that saved his life in point-blank attack

Apr. 18, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Sgt. Timothy Gilboe with the armor plate that saved him as he wrestled an AK47 away from the insurgent who shot him.
Sgt. Timothy Gilboe with the armor plate that saved him as he wrestled an AK47 away from the insurgent who shot him. (Courtesy of Sgt. Timothy Gilboe)
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Sgt. Timothy Gilboe is taking home one hell of a souvenir.

Gilboe was given an armor plate three years after it saved his life when he charged an AK-47-toting insurgent and was shot point-blank in the belly. Gilboe defeated the gunman bare-handed, protecting his squad.

Gilboe, who was awarded the Silver Star in 2012 for his heroics, was given the armor plate by the acquisition office for soldier equipment at a ceremony on April 18 at a Portland, Maine, Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

Gilboe, then with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry, 10th Mountain Division and now a member of the Maine National Guard, dwelled not on his own actions but the sacrifice of his squad leader and friend, Staff Sgt. Matt Hermanson, who was fatally wounded in the firefight.

Before the squad rounded the corner of a building to take on several insurgents they had wounded, Hermanson stopped Gilboe and took the lead, knowing the danger, Gilboe said.

“He puts his hand on my chest and said, ‘Stop, follow me,’ and that was the last thing I ever heard him say before he was killed,” said Gilboe, 26. “He definitely died keeping me alive and saving lives, and this [plate] will always be his. That’s why I’m happy I got it, to tell his story.”

Program Executive Office Soldier’s Command Sgt. Maj. Doug Maddi presented Gilboe with the plate. The two served in the same brigade in Afghanistan, and Maddi had attended Gilboe’s Silver Star ceremony at Fort Polk, La.

When a piece of protective equipment saves a soldier’s life, the organization studies it and later offers it to the soldier as a memento, Maddi said.

“For Tim, he did things no one can think about to save his teammates,” Maddi said. “To do the things he did, there’s something in your fiber that’s already there, whether it comes from your training, your parents or your grandparents. It’s something already in you.”

On April 28, 2011, in the Jaghato District, Wardak province, Gilboe’s platoon was investigating the wounded insurgents, when the insurgents fired, striking Hermanson and igniting the assistant machine gunner’s ammunition-filled backpack.

Gilboe and the gunner scrambled to break the links of the ammo belt and remove the pack.

As two insurgents closed with the unit, Gilboe realized he could not raise his rifle in time to fire and instead charged one of them.

Gilboe grabbed the barrel of the enemy AK-47 as a round hit the bottom of his chest plate. The slug knocked the wind out of him and sprayed fragments into his legs.

Gilboe wrestled the AK-47 away and tried to shoot the insurgent with it, but it jammed. A member of the unit finished off the enemy fighter.

Gilboe took charge of the remaining squad members, cleared the area and set up a security perimeter. He also rendered first aid to the wounded before the team was medically evacuated.

As Gilboe was presented with the armor plate, he credited American military science for saving his life.

“They’re a tough enemy, and they’re committed because they’re fighting for an ideology,” he said. “But if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s they don’t have the stuff we have.”

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