Earlier versions of this story incorrectly identified the martial art in which Staff Sgt. Jarion Halbisengibbs has a black belt. It is Tae Kwon Do. This version has been corrected.
Combat Medal Awarded for Frenzied Iraq Battle
Friday, May 15, 2009; 10:13 AM
Staff Sgt. Jarion Halbisengibbs remembers Sept. 10, 2007, as the night "everything went wrong."
Assaulting from a helicopter onto a cluster of farm houses outside Samarra, Iraq, at 2 a.m., his team of Army Green Berets and Iraqi police were set down unexpectedly in the open, blinded by dust, and immediately came under heavy machine gun fire from the bodyguards of a top insurgent commander.
But within half an hour, 12 insurgents lay dead -- six of them killed by Halbisengibbs, whose quick-thinking and bravery in close-quarters combat also saved the lives of two of his American comrades.
For his "exceptional gallantry under intense enemy fire," according to an official narrative, the Army awarded Halbisengibbs the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army's second highest combat medal, in a ceremony at Fort Carson, Colo., on Thursday.
In 2007, as U.S. troops were pushing into Bagdhad and the neighboring province of Diyala, members of the Sunni insurgent group known as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) regrouped in Samarra and established a safe haven, according to Capt. Matthew A. Chaney, leader of the 12-man team from 10th Special Forces Group.
The night of the raid, the team was targeting Abu Obaeideah, the reported defense minister of the ISI in the region. That caused a problem because the field that was the planned landing zone for the raid was covered with water, forcing the two helicopters to touch down near the insurgent safe house instead, alerting Obaeideah's men. "We normally found more guys asleep," said Chaney, but "he had over a dozen body guards" who quickly armed themselves.
Nearly blinded by the dust from a second incoming helicopter, Halbisengibbs, Chaney, and Sgt. 1st Class Michael D. Lindsay struggled to lead the Iraqi police toward the building from which they were taking heavy fire.
"The brown out was so intense that the Iraqi's got lost -- vertigo might be a way to describe it, they had no orientation" and, in the darkness of a moonless night, were temporarily unable to fight, said Lindsay.
So the three Americans, led by Halbisengibbs, assaulted the house. They stacked up outside the doorway, Halbisengibbs threw in a fragmentation grenade, killing two fighters inside as the soldier rushed in. "You could see faceless shapes scurrying around the room grabbing weapons, and less than three seconds we received AK-47 fire," said Lindsay, who was hit in the throat. Chaney was shot through the pelvis and hip. Moments later, the insurgents threw a grenade, blasting both of them out the door and into the courtyard.
"I was hyperventilating and throwing up," on the verge of passing out, said Lindsay. Without the strength to lift his rifle, he said he rolled over then pulled out his pistol as enemy bullets flew over his head. "I fired a few rounds so no one would walk over and shoot me," he said.
Chaney lay in the courtyard, unable to feel his legs, but kept firing his rifle, killing an insurgent shooting a him nearby. Chaney and Lindsay received Silver Stars today for their actions.
Meanwhile, Halbisengibbs "continued to clear the structure in complete darkness as his night vision goggles and personal radio were all destroyed by enemy gunfire at point blank range," the official narrative said. "Stumbling over a dead enemy, he was shot in the thumb and propelled to the ground by the blast" of the grenade. "Alone, he relentlessly continued to engage the concealed enemy and in a moment of intense close quarters battle killed one additional terrorist inside the now chaotic structure."
Moving into the courtyard to protect his two comrades who lay exposed there, Halbisengibbs was suddenly shot through the abdomen. "It felt like white hot lightning shooting through my stomach, and I felt my hip pop out," he said. But even as he fell to the ground he raised his rifle and killed the fighter only 12 feet away.
Despite a serious wound, he then reloaded his M-4 rifle, "and linked up with the rest of my jundis [Iraqi forces] and got them to finish the fight," he said. During the frenzied battle, Halbisengibbs recalled the odd sensation of looking through his green night vision goggles and feeling "disassociated . . . like watching yourself do something."
Obaeideah was killed during the assault.
All three Green Berets said they have recovered, although they still experience pain from their injuries. Chaney and Lindsay have deployed again to Iraq. Halbisengibbs, who has a black belt in tae kwon do and joined the Special Forces after a stint as a delicatessen cook in Ann Arbor, Mich., expects to deploy again soon.