Legion to honor heroic serviceman

NAPLES — Displaying exceptional courage under fire in the face of an enemy attack, United States Army Private First Class Kevin Wayne Gardner of Poland received the Bronze Star Medal of Valor.

PFC Gardner will be honored on Saturday, Oct. 8 by the Casco/Naples/Raymond American Legion Post 155 at the American Legion Hall, Route 11, in Naples at 5 p.m.

PFC Gardner is the son of Kimberly Gardner of Poland and Kevin Gardner of Windham. He is the brother of Kai Gardner.

The following account was reported by Michael Hoffman and Joe Gould, staff writers for Army Times:

PFC Gardner was taking part in a joint training exercise with the Iraqi Army at the Ghuzlani Warrior Training Center on the morning of Jan. 15, 2011 when Marwan Nadir Abdulaziz al-Jabouri sprinted down a hill firing an M16 from his hip at U.S. soldiers.

U.S. soldiers thought of al-Jabouri as a model Iraqi soldier. He joined in 2008, passed a screening test and was recently promoted to squad leader. No one thought twice when he asked to fall out of formation to fill up his canteen shortly after 8 a.m.

The soldiers with 1st Cavalry Division’s Alpha Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, 4th Advise and Assist Brigade didn’t know U.S. forces had killed his uncle and cousin, or that his father, a lieutenant colonel in Saddam Hussein’s army, had recently kicked him out of his house.

Capt. Thomas Herman’s 22 soldiers waiting to start training with Jabouri’s company had no warning that morning of a shootout that killed Sgts. Michael Bartley and Martin “Mick” LaMar and critically injured Sgt. Robert Fierro.

No one could predict either that three of Alpha Troop’s youngest soldiers would react quickly enough to maneuver and kill Jabouri, preventing a tragedy from spiraling into something much worse. Pfcs. Gardner and Raymond Gomez and Sgt. Martin Gaymon each earned the Bronze Star with Valor device Feb. 17, one week after Fort Hood, Texas, held a memorial for Bartley and LaMar.

Out of sight from Iraqi and U.S. soldiers near the water trailer, Jabouri pulled out an M16 magazine he hid that morning under his body armor.

He locked and loaded his weapon on a day U.S. soldiers didn’t plan to train with live ammunition. Jabouri, 28, turned, sprinted down the hill screaming “Allahu Akbar,” and shot Fierro and Bartley. Confusion erupted. Iraqi soldiers scattered. Ryan Ueberroth, an Army human terrain research manager standing next to Fierro and Bartley, thought the shooting was part of the day’s training.

“I just remember being pissed off because it was so loud. I didn’t understand why blanks would be that loud, but I thought it was training because the Army always likes to have attacks when soldiers least expect it,” said Ueberroth, who didn’t seek shelter in a nearby bunker until he saw a U.S. soldier draw his weapon.

Standing guard at the training lane’s gate, Gardner, Gomez and Pfc. Michael Grey heard the gunshots. Grey handed Gardner magazine clips for him and Gomez through the window of the Humvee stationed at the gate. Gardner and Gomez sprinted up the gravel path toward the shooting, not even pausing to strap on their body armor.

Jabouri, meanwhile, continued firing his M16, hitting other U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi lieutenant. All escaped serious injury as their body armor absorbed the bullets.

Gaymon dashed out and grabbed Fierro, pulling him out of the firing line. Alpha Troop’s soldiers started firing back by then. One bullet struck Jabouri, forcing him back behind a rock.

Gomez and Gardner, both of whom joined 9th Cavalry straight out of basic training at the Joint Readiness Training Center, had started to move into position. Gomez laid down suppressing fire and Gardner flanked Jabouri as the rogue Iraqi soldier shot LaMar, killing him.

Gardner shot Jabouri and moved toward him. Jabouri squeezed out another round before Gardner shot him again. The 20-year-old soldier rushed up and grabbed the M16 from the dead Iraqi.

“These guys were so young that (Gardner) asked me if it was okay to shoot (Jabouri) and I’m like, ‘Hell yeah it’s okay,’ you saved us from this being any worse,” said Col. Brian Winski, brigade commander.

The shooting left 9th Cavalry soldiers wondering why they had to spend a year away from their families to help an army whose soldiers just killed two of their friends.

Training stopped for four days. U.S. officers reviewed security procedures and gave their soldiers time to cool off. Then, the 1/9 noncommissioned officers voted to restart training Jan. 20. Herman compared it to heading back outside the gate after losing a soldier to an improvised explosive device. “We had to rebuild after that. It wasn’t easy, but it became easier once we got back up on the horse and rebuilt that trust with them,” Herman said. “The trust is always there but now you have to verify.”

Deeply embarrassed and apologetic, the Iraqi officers and soldiers denounced Jabouri’s actions.

Ueberroth, a former Army sergeant who observed the first month of training, overheard two Iraqi lieutenants talking. One started to complain to the other about the strict new security procedures the U.S. instituted. The other soldier cut him off.

“This is our fault. We failed them,” Ueberroth said the one lieutenant told the other.

American soldiers’ security posture changed across Iraq following the shooting. Soldiers now must wear their body armor and helmets when training with Iraqi soldiers.

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