Camp Lejeune, North Carolina -- Gunnery Sergeant Jonathan Gifford was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the highest decoration bestowed by the Department of the Navy and second highest decoration for valor, during a ceremony at Stone Bay aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, June 17.
General John M. Paxton, Jr., the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, and Maj. Gen. Mark A. Clark, commanding general, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, spoke during the ceremony and then presented the award to Gifford's wife and children.
"Acts of extraordinary heroism, those of conspicuous gallantry, are acts that cannot be planned, ordered or demanded. They are acts given fully and willingly by a person without regard to themselves; they are acts done for the man to their left, and the man to their right and for the mission" said Clark. "Today we are here to honor such a man."
Gifford, of Palm Bay, Fla., was mortally wounded while assigned as a team chief with Special Operations Task Force West, Combined Joint Special Task Force Afghanistan, in support of operation Enduring Freedom.
Gifford was advising Afghan commandos during an operation in Badghis province, Afghanistan, July 29, 2012, when he observed three commandos become wounded.
Gifford's award cites, "Without hesitation he mounted an All-Terrain Vehicle and crossed 800 meters of exposed ground, preformed first aid and, with the help of another Marine, moved the causalities several hundred meters to a protected landing zone for medical evacuation."
Realizing other commandos were under heavy gun fire and being wounded, Gifford gathered ammunition, and with another Marine, ran back across the same terrain under fire and led the commandos in an assault.
Gifford, in his final act of bravery, eliminated an insurgent firing from a window, climbed atop the building from which insurgents were firing and dropped a grenade down the chimney. He continued to engage the enemy until he fell mortally wounded.
Gifford continued to uphold the core values of the Marine Corps until the very end, and his actions saved countless lives. "Gifford's actions during this fight were extraordinary and they turned the tide of this ambush, ultimately saving the lives of his fellow Marines, soldiers and Afghan commandos," Paxton said during the ceremony.
"We are forever indebted to the service and leadership (Gifford) gave and continues to give through all those he has touched, and those who continue to serve, with the traits and characteristics garnered from (Gifford's) tutelage," concluded Paxton.