Sunday, October 7, 2007

Exceptionally Heroic Conduct

Today, I'd like to share with you the Silver Star Medal citation of a soldier in my battalion. The citation description is much longer than many; you can see that it was not a single moment of decision for Master Sergeant Gagne, but his entire conduct, the totality of the way he fights and lives, that earned him the award. Unlike many awards of this level, it was not awarded posthumously. The narrative describes the kinds of challenges this battalion's soldiers have faced daily for the last 14 months.

These are the types of guys and gals I have the privilege of serving with every day. And the way they conduct themselves, the way they protect their ideals, and the way they value life, make them unique in history.

Citation: The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star Medal to Eric Gagne, Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, for exceptionally heroic conduct in the performance of outstanding service to the United States as the Reconnaissance Platoon Sergeant for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2d Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2d Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Camp Striker, from 28 October 2006 to 7 March 2007, during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, 06-08.

His gallantry in the days following the Battalion's seizure of the Yusufiya Thermal Power Plant (YTPP) and subsequent offensive operations greatly contributed to the establishment of a foothold in the highly contested Euphrates River Valley (ERV) tribal lands and the Brigade's success in eliminating a former Sunni extremist safe haven in Al Qaeda's self- declared Baghdad Southern Belt.

On 28 October 2006, Master Sergeant Gagne led the Reconnaissance Platoon on a screening mission in support of a series of cordon and search operations with Company A, 2d Battalion, 14th Infantry in vicinity of Qarghuli Road and Route Caveman. At approximately 0500 hours as his team moved into a palm grove, he noticed a copper wire, halted the patrol, and used his tactical aim light with infrared filter to trace the wire to a choke point on the southeast side of the power plant's wall. The choke point was on Company A, 2d Battalion, 14th Infantry's planned ingress route. Having discovered a possible improvised explosive device (IED), he continued into the palm grove as a guide so the company could avoid being engaged in the insurgent's planned IED kill zone. The other end of the wire led into the palm grove where it was tied to a palm tree in an area littered with fresh foot prints and matted grass indicative of an active IED site.

Maximizing the use of micro-terrain and camouflage, he established a hide about 15 feet from the trigger point for immediate interdiction if the triggerman arrived. At 1309 hours, a local national male moved toward the trigger point. Master Sergeant Gagne noticed a boy following the man and decided against the use of deadly force to prevent traumatizing or injuring the youth. He waited for the triggerman to divert his attention before exposing himself, overpowering, and detaining the man and boy at great personal risk to himself.

As the patrol continued movement, Master Sergeant Gagne discovered a white grain sack containing an IED initiation system, a video camera, and a black mask. The triggerman indicated the presence of more "Koombalas" (bombs) in the area. The triggerman drew a map in the dirt detailing the location of another IED that Master Sergeant Gagne deciphered to be the intersection of Route Malibu and Qarghuli road. He immediately notified the Alpha Company element already en route and had them halt their patrol and change their route to avoid the possible IED.

Master Sergeant Gagne's recon team moved to the intersection and verified the presence of a command wire. They then moved to an overwatch position to cover Alpha's withdrawal. After the mission, an Explosive and Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team determined the first IED to be three 155-mm. artillery rounds and the second to be a forty pound directional charge.

On 6 November 2006, Master Sergeant Gagne led a patrol to overwatch the container yard to the east of the YTPP to deny its use by Sunni insurgents. At 1930 hours, the team entered a building whose balcony he intended to use as an observation post (OP). The patrol halted in place when a pressure plate was found at the foot of the stairs. The element exited by retracing their steps while he interrogated the pressure plate. He led them to another building to set up the OP, but they were forced to conduct a deliberate clearance when numerous IED components were found scattered throughout the building.

In the midst of the ensuing search, an IED composed of five artillery rounds was found atop the building's "false ceiling". The search also yielded numerous chemicals, scales, mixing devices, and a fair amount of hair clippings. The Combined Explosives Exploitation Cell (CEXC) assessed the location to be a "suicide bomber's lair" yielding the name of a known Al Qaeda member amidst pervasive insurgent propaganda and graffiti.

On 30 JAN 07, Master Sergeant Gagne led a five-man interdiction team in support of TF 4-31's Operation Polar Ice in vicinity of Route Caveman. They established an overwatch position near a presumably abandoned house that in fact contained 24 local nationals, including women and children. At 0958 hours, five armed individuals in a Bongo truck arrived at the apparent insurgent safe house. Master Sergeant Gagne audaciously attempted to detain the gunmen, resulting in a brief but fierce firefight. Two of the insurgents managed to escape, however three insurgents were detained with various weapons, ammunition, and fraudulent identification cards.

On 7 March 2007, Master Sergeant Gagne again led the recon platoon on a long-range reconnaissance patrol and screening mission in support of Operation Avalanche Landing. He covertly infiltrated deep into openly hostile territory rife with infighting among rival insurgent groups vying for supremacy. En route to their final overwatch position, he encountered two groups of insurgents engaged in armed combat near Route Trailblazers. The recon element sought cover and concealment in hopes of remaining unnoticed, but then became engaged by a three-man insurgent machine gun team. Master Sergeant Gagne gallantly exposed himself to the withering machine gun fire, neutralized the enemy position, and forced the enemy withdrawal. After capturing the enemy machine gun, he then occupied an abandoned house south to overwatch the Task Force main effort during the interrogation and removal of two semi-trucks and trailers suspected of being enormous VBIEDs.

Master Sergeant Gagne continued to provide timely aid when they were unexpectedly called upon to secure a 13-vehicle logistics patrol that was halted on Route Mustangs by a massive IED destruction of one of their vehicles. Master Sergeant Gagne and a small element interrogated and marked two potential IEDs ensuring the safety of recovery assets and the safe extraction of all coalition forces off the objective and the heavy IED-laden Route Mustangs.

Master Sergeant Gagne's superb execution of reconnaissance and sniper operations ensured he was always at the forefront of the battle against a very elusive and determined enemy. While leading the battalion's initial reconnaissance effort around the YTPP by personally locating and marking numerous IEDs, his gallant actions prevented significant U.S. casualties. His numerous exploits of marked distinction and courage in support of various Task Force missions greatly contributed to the permanent presence of U.S. forces in the former Al Qaeda safe-haven and to the Task Force's success throughout AO Dragon.

Born: at Francestown, New Hampshire
Home of Record: Francestown, New Hampshire

No comments: