By Pfc. Michael T. Gams,
Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command 29 Palms
Lance Cpl. Brady Gustafson’s parents describe him as “reserved, loyal, stubborn and determined.”
This was proven in action July 21, 2008.
His loyalty to his fellow Marines, his stubborn nature when he refused medical treatment and his determination under enemy fire as a machine gunner with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment earned him the Navy Cross, and a place among the ranks of such Marine Corps legends as Lewis ‘Chesty’ Puller, Daniel ‘Dan’ Daly and John Basilone.
He received this medal, the highest awarded by the Navy, for his deployment to Afghanistan is support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The Navy Cross was pinned on his chest by Lt. Col. John M. Reed, the commanding officer of 2/7, and meritorious corporal chevrons to his collar by Maj. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser and Sgt. Maj. Randall Carter, the commanding general and sergeant major of 1st Marine Division, at a ceremony held March 27 at Lance Cpl. Torrey L. Grey Field. The ceremony included speeches from his former and current commanding officers.
Gustafson accepted his medal at a perfect position of attention, despite missing his right leg below the knee. His entire battalion was in attendance as well as Marines from across the nation, former service members, family and friends.
According to eyewitness accounts, Gustafson’s actions that fateful day in July 2008 met and exceeded the requirements for a Navy Cross.
On July 21 Gustafson was manning the turret of the lead vehicle, a mine resistant ambush protected vehicle, or MRAP, during a four-vehicle mounted patrol riding through the streets of Shewan, Afghanistan.
That’s when things got ugly.
The patrol came under heavy fire from machine guns as well as rocket-propelled grenades from hidden insurgent positions.
One of the RPGs hit Gustafson’s MRAP, piercing its armor, rendering the driver unconscious and partially amputating Gustafson’s right leg.
Despite his injuries, Gustafson remained vigilant on his M240B machine gun, locating and accurately firing on several insurgent positions, some as close as 20 meters from the vehicle.
He remained in the turret, reloading twice and firing over 600 rounds, while Lance Cpl. Cody Comstock, an Anderson, Ind. native, applied a tourniquet to his leg.
After regaining consciousness, the driver, Cpl. Geoffrey Kamp, an Indianapolis native, put the vehicle in reverse and pushed the disabled vehicle behind them out of the kill zone.
Not until both vehicles were safe from the heavy insurgent fire and all the Marines had evacuated the burning vehicle did he allow himself to be removed from the turret for medical treatment.
“I knew I was hit,” he said. “I guess the adrenaline kept me going.”
Gustafson humbly stressed that he was only doing his job, nothing more.
“Anyone I served with would have done the same,” said the Eagan, IL native. “Heck, if it wasn’t for everyone else out there, I wouldn’t have made it.”
After being treated by corpsmen at the scene, he was transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and then to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Upon regaining consciousness after surgery, Gustafson called his parents to tell them what happened, said the 21 year-old.
“We were worried about him,” said his mother, Kim Gustafson. “But we knew everything would work out, God does have a plan after all.”
During 2/7’s deployment to Afghanistan, “the extraordinary became ordinary,” said Lt. Col Richard Hall, 2/7’s commanding officer during the deployment.
“I underestimated my Marines and I’m in awe of what they accomplished.”
Known as the hardest hit battalion in the Marine Corps during 2008, 2/7 lost over 20 Marines and sailors and sent over 80 home with serious injuries during their eight month deployment to Afghanistan.
Gustafson is now looking to the future and says he is looking forward to a bright future outside of the Marine Corps.
“I took a lot of photos in Afghanistan,” said Gustafson.
“I’m going to go to college in the fall and try and make a career out of it.”
Cpl. Brady Gustafson never faltered during the ambush and his heroism helped save the lives of all the Marines involved.
The valor and courage displayed on the streets of Shewan that July day embodied the core values of the Marine Corps and sets an example for all to emulate and be proud of.
“I’m proud of all the Marines,” said Kim. “There are so many heroes, I’m so lucky to count my son among one of them.”
TIME Magazine Report:
By Mark Thompson
Lance Corporal Brady (Goose) Gustafson and his 20 fellow Marines sensed trouble on July 21 as they crept into the Afghan village of Shewan and saw civilians drifting away. Moments later, a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and machine-gun fire enveloped Gustafson's mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle (MRAP) and its three trailing humvees. An RPG exploded inside his vehicle, the resulting blast searing his face as it rushed through the open turret where he was manning the machine gun. He started shooting at gun flashes from an estimated 100 Taliban, some only 20 yards away. Gustafson, 21, stood up for a better firing position but was instantly racked with pain. "I looked down, and a lot of my right leg wasn't there," he says. "I could see muscle and bone, and I was bleeding pretty hard." The RPG had taken out six inches of leg bones and flesh. Gustafson's booted right foot dangled uselessly, attached only by his leg's calf muscles.
The MRAP stopped. The driver, hit in the head by shrapnel, appeared to be dead. Enemy machine-gun fire kept most of the other Marines inside their vehicles. Gustafson watched as his turret's bulletproof windows cracked under the onslaught. Somebody had to fire back. A Marine inside the MRAP yanked a tourniquet off his flak jacket and wound it tightly around Gustafson's shattered leg.
His wound stanched, Gustafson finished firing off the ammo belt's 200 rounds, pausing between each six-round burst to keep the barrel from melting. He pulled up and fired off another 17-lb. belt. After nearly 10 minutes, weak from blood loss, he swapped places; the other Marine kept firing as their driver came to and they escaped.
Gustafson now has a fake lower right leg and a real Navy Cross, the nation's second highest award, for valor. But the most important outcome, according to Gustafson: "We didn't lose a single Marine."
Fast Fact: To date, only 29 Navy Crosses have been awarded during the hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan
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In: Iraq, Afghanistan, Middle East
Tags: navy cross, brady gustafson, 2/7 Marines, hero, afghanistan, shewan
Location: Shewan, Farah, Afghanistan (load item map)
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