SECOND LIEUTENANT GERALD WOLFORD: AWARDED THE SILVER STAR
2LT Wolford courageously engaged enemy positions and vehicles, exposed himself to hostile fire while bringing casualties to safety, repositioned men and redistributed weapons and equipment under fire, without regard to his personal safety...
"I ALWAYS WANTED TO JUMP OUT OF AIRPLANES"
2LT Wolford recalls that when he was young, "Money was always tight, but I never remember going without any necessities." My dad drove logging trucks and my mother worked as a waitress.
He spent much of his childhood outdoors, pretending to be in the Army. "My mother says that I've been GI Joe since I was six" and Wolford recalls that he had "always wanted to jump out of airplanes." It was during high school in Oakland, Oregon that Wolford solidified his interest in the Army. "I had always wanted to serve, but I set my mind to it when I was a junior in high school."
Five days after graduating from high school in 1995, he was off to basic training at Ft. Benning, Georgia.
"AN OPPORTUNITY TO SEE THE WORLD AND SERVE OUR COUNTRY"
Basic training built upon Wolford's family traditions and his aspirations to become an American Soldier. He saw the military as an opportunity to "see the world, find excitement, and serve our country."
It also provided him the means to provide for his wife and daughter while securing opportunities for more education.
In the spring of 2002, 2LT Wolford was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina where he joined the 3rd of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment (AIR). Taking advantage of opportunities for advancement, he progressed from Anti-Tank Section Leader to Anti-Tank Platoon Sergeant, to Platoon Sergeant, ultimately achieving his current position as a Reconnaissance Platoon Sergeant. While with the 82nd Airborne Division, he successfully graduated from advanced Airborne training, becoming a Jumpmaster and earning his Senior Parachutist Badge.
In February 2003, he deployed with the 82nd Airborne Division to Kuwait in preparation for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"OUR MISSION WAS TO SECURE THE BRIDGES"
In the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2LT Wolford led Soldiers as part of a ground attack convoy north from Kuwait to Tallil Airfield, southeast of Baghdad. From that point, the Euphrates River remained the dominant obstacle at which the enemy could block the liberation of Baghdad. Since bridge crossings operations under fire present an exceptionally challenging military mission, units of the elite 82d Airborne Division were chosen for the mission.
Today, Wolford recounts
Our mission was to secure bridges across the Euphrates River in As-Samawah. There was a series that we were told to secure and, because we were mounted in HMMWVs, the Battalion Commander ordered us to secure the route and do a reconnaissance of the route for the follow-on dismounted units.
Wolford's section completed its reconnaissance and covered the movement of the dismounted units. "When they were at the first of the bridges," he says, "I told them to hold up and my gunner identified an enemy vehicle."
"I CONFIRMED IT WAS THE ENEMY AND GAVE HIM THE ORDER TO FIRE"
The enemy vehicle was a pickup truck outfitted with a machine gun on the back. It was positioned on the far side of the Euphrates, about 200 meters away. Wolford recounts
I confirmed it was the enemy and gave him the order to fire ...for our battalion they were the first shots of the war.
The initial burst of gunfire took out the machine gun in the back of the pickup, and a second burst from a .50 caliber machine gun disabled the vehicle completely.
"Once the vehicle was disabled," he says, "we saw other insurgents popping out of the buildings."
The enemy were positioned in foxholes and had the buildings fortified with sandbags. "They were determined to take a stand on the far side of the river," says Wolford.
As his unit came under machinegun fire, Wolford recognized that the American rifle fire was having no impact on enemy forces in their reinforced positions. Therefore, he decided to bring heavier firepower to bear. Wolford recalls
We had AT-4s, which are 74mm anti-tank missiles that are shoulder-fired. This was a good tactical opportunity to shoot a missile. So I fired one of those into the house and the whole hut just collapsed.
The missile silenced the enemy machinegun fire, putting the heaviest weapon the enemy had on that side of the river out of action.
Almost immediately, Wolford's team came under fire from a different quarter - a reinforced foxhole that was effectively shielding the enemy within from the Americans' Mark-19 grenade launcher. According to Wolford
That gave us another chance to fire an AT-4. I readied another one to fire and then that position was silenced.
"THEY WERE PINNED DOWN"
Wolford's team then began its advance by HMMWV to the second bridge, focusing their attention to the far side of the river, from which most enemy fire was coming. As they moved forward, they came under fire from an enemy mortar position. With well placed fire, they silenced the mortar fire. Approaching the second bridge, they crossed from open rural terrain into an increasingly built-up urban area. As a result, accompanying dismounted forces had to take care to clear buildings as they went, thus ensuring the Americans didn't come under fire from by-passed hostile forces.
As his team neared the second bridge, Wolford noticed a friendly unit taking heavy enemy fire and waving for assistance. He recalls
I dismounted, moved to their position, and asked them what they wanted to do. They said they needed to move forward but they were pinned down. They identified to me the location of the enemy gunner pinning them down. They had been receiving heavy machinegun fire, and they'd been hit with rocket-propelled grenades from a building.
Wolford quickly took stock of the situation and determined that the best course of action was to move up below the second bridge and position his HMMWV between the pinned down men and the enemy. He recalls that
The road was dipping down and we were right underneath the second bridge, so they couldn't hit us with any kind of artillery.
This position was also flanked by buildings, affording good cover from direct fire, so that the only part of Wolford's vehicle that was exposed was the machine-gunner on top.
However, once in position, Wolford's team came under rocket propelled grenade fire. He recalls that
My gunner and I both saw an RPG fired at our position, and I had time to turn and yell "RPG!" so the two other men had time to get down.
The RPG hit the bridge right above the HMMWV, wounding two of Wolford's men. Wolford was knocked down by the blast, but quickly got back to his feet and checked on his men. Both were responsive, so he helped them up. In the meantime, his machine-gunner had returned fire, silencing the position from which the RPG had been launched.
Since his HMMWV had only suffered minor damage from the RPG blast, Wolford used it to shield his wounded Soldiers as he moved them to the casualty collection point and into the care of the medics.
Refusing medical care for his injuries, Wolford moved forward once again, so as to provide his men with cover.
"WE DIDN'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THAT RPG ANYMORE"
"At this time," he says, "the vehicle got hit by the second RPG. It was firing straight down the road and, because our fire was focusing on where the dismounts needed to go, we didn't even see the guy that fired it."
The round went underneath the vehicle and destroyed the right rear tire. Despite the impact, Wolford decided to stay there. "It was still the best position for us," he says. Just as the attacker readied another RPG, he was spotted by the Americans. Wolford observes the attacker
He must have thought he was bulletproof. He knelt down in the middle of the road, and dropped another round in it. We engaged him, and we didn't have to worry about that RPG anymore.
In all, Wolford's team spent over three hours engaging hostile forces on both sides of the Euphrates River. They placed heavy suppressive fire on enemy forces, covering line units as they maneuvered to the objective. Wolford and his team played a key role in his battalion's success in crossing the river and in opening the way to Baghdad.
For his heroic actions during the action, 2LT Wolford was awarded the Silver Star for valor. His citation recognized that his actions served to inspire other Soldiers on the battlefield and motivated his section to continue the fight despite physical injury, vehicle damage and fatigue.
"THOSE YOUNG MEN... THEY JUST BLEW MY MIND"
Wolford credits his Soldiers with the success of the mission at As-Samawah, pointing specifically to their hard work, professional conduct and courage under fire. Today, he observes
Those young men, they just blew my mind. I never had a question that they'd do what I said. When I said, 'follow me', they were right there. When I said, 'this is where we're going,' there was no hesitation on their part. They were right there with me... Being awarded the Silver Star is an incredible honor, but having my men receive awards for their valor is what made my accomplishments honorable.
Tags: ODA, special forces, sf, iraq, afghanistan, war, america, wtc, 9-11, 9/11, real hero, soldier, bronze, silver, purple heart, airborne
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