Colorado Air National Guardsman receives Purple Heart
By Capt. Kristin Haley and Capt. Nicole David, 140th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 24, 2009
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (9/24/09) -- Tech. Sgt. Richard Gibbons, 140th Civil Engineering Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight, received a Purple Heart medal Sept. 19 at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. His vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade while on a mounted patrol in Afghanistan earlier that week.
Gibbons sustained non-life threatening injuries to his shoulder and leg, but he is in great spirits, said Brig. Gen. Trulan Eyre, 140th Wing commander.
"We are so lucky that his injuries aren't more severe and that this is yet another reminder of the great work our Guardsmen are doing both at home and abroad," said Eyre.
The 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard currently has 75 Guardsmen deployed in support of various operations around the world.
"He's really a great guy. Everyone likes him and he's got a great sense of humor. In fact, I miss him. He's a master at his job and a great technician, I really respect him," said Tech. Sgt. Jason Harrison, 140th Civil Engineering EOD Flight Manager and Gibbons' direct supervisor at Buckley.
When interviewed, Gibbons' wife, Jamie, explained what her husband told her had happened and what he could remember. She said she'd asked him those exact questions at least half a dozen times and he still can only give her fragments as to what occurred.
"I think it may be something he wants to talk about in person. I do know at first Richard believed their vehicle was hit by a roadside IED (improvised explosive device), only later to be told his vehicle door was hit by an RPG. The first thing he told me he remembered was being loaded into the helicopter," commented Jamie Gibbons.
She said that her husband called her as soon as he got into Bagram. Jamie continued, "Even while I could hear the doctors rushing around him and asking questions regarding his pain and injuries, Richard continued to keep asking about his team and making sure that I was all right. He couldn't even focus on himself at that moment! I would ask him how he was and he would just say, 'Don't worry, I'm fine, really, I'm OK' over and over again."
According to Tech. Sgt. Nate Wills, also in the 140th Civil Engineering EOD Flight, "He's a very loyal and courageous kind of guy. He's definitely not afraid to put his hand up." Gibbons had every opportunity not to go on this deployment. In fact, he had to resign his Active Guard Reserve full-time job to be able to go on this deployment as a traditional part-time Guardsman. "I think that speaks volumes about his character," said Wills.
"Richard knew what he was getting himself into," said Harrison. "He was deployed to Baghdad in 2005 during the height of the IED attacks. But that kind of goes along with what it means to be EOD. This is an all-volunteer career field. You can choose to quit at any point and he definitely chose to be a part of all of this."
According to his wife, it came down to the fact that he was needed to deploy and as much as she didn't want him to leave, she knew he wanted this opportunity to improve on himself as a technician and make the most of this deployment. "He wanted to prove himself as a team leader and feel he was doing his part. He's always stated that if he deployed again, there were goals he wished to achieve this time around. I think he aced them."
Gibbons has worked as the team leader at the busiest forward operation base in Afghanistan and he's been able to keep his six-person teams absolutely safe, according to Chief Master Sgt. Jerry Shelton, an EOD Superintendent. "He's such a great American," he added.
As the leader of the counter-IED team while deployed, Gibbons has done an enormous amount of work. He has taken care of more than 30 IEDs, been on air assaults and articles have been written about him in Reuters and in the New York Times. "We knew this deployment was important," said Harrison.
"My husband humbles me, Richard is overly modest. He likes to feel he is a piece in a bigger picture and doesn't really know how to accept being the center of attention, especially if he deserves it. I know he takes great pride in the work he does and constantly asks himself if he could be doing more. Not just in his military career, but in all aspects of life. Receiving the Purple Heart was definitely overwhelming. I can tell just by his face in the pictures. I certainly hope this shows him he did give it his all this deployment," said Jamie Gibbons.
With Gibbons being injured, Jamie feels like it has been her worst nightmare and the happiest day of her life simultaneously - worst nightmare, because he's in pain and happiest day because he's alive. Jamie went on to say, "I could say that being an EOD wife is difficult and asks a lot of oneself, but it's not even half of what is asked of Richard and all techs who serve. Being a part of EOD, you belong to an extended family. I want to thank Richard's shop and especially Tech. Sgt. Harrison, who helped me these past few days keep my sanity and stay positive."
"We are all anxious for his safe return and the 140th Wing will be re-presenting him the Purple Heart in a ceremony in front of his fellow Air Guardsmen at Buckley," said Eyre.